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A new surgical procedure enabled Kathy Lahr to recover pain-free after breast cancer surgery. From left: Dr. John F. Turner, medical director of the Thyra M. Humphreys Center for Breast Health, Kathy and Bernie Lahr, of Montandon.

LEWISBURG — Because her surgeon reluctantly sacrificed sleeping in on a Saturday to attend a 6:15 a.m. lecture, Kathy Lahr, of Montandon, awoke from her mastectomy with no pain.

“I had been diligent about mammograms,” said Lahr, 68. Even after moving from Georgia to Lewisburg in June last year, she managed to schedule a mammogram last fall at the Thyra M. Humphreys Center for Breast Health, in Evangelical Community Hospital. A suspicious spot resulted in a second mammogram and a six-month follow-up in April this year, which was when the “very small” tumor was found.

Lahr decided on a lumpectomy with radiation, but a pre-op MRI showed another very small “something.”

“Thankfully, we had a very aggressive radiologist who was insistent” on another biopsy, Lahr said. The biopsy confirmed a second, very tiny tumor.

Because Lahr has two cousins with the BRCA-2 genes who are currently being treated for breast cancer, she opted for a bilateral mastectomy performed by Dr. John F. Turner, medical director of the Thyra M. Humphreys Center for Breast Health, in conjunction with reconstructive surgery by Dr. Christian A. Kauffman, chair of the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery for the Geisinger Surgery Institute.

Although she has personal connections with renowned hospitals like Johns Hopkins, she was happy to receive competent care in her own community.

“I really was not nervous ever,” she said. “Dr. Turner and his staff were so straightforward with their explanations.”

“I was with her at every step of this thing,” said her husband, Bernie Lahr, 68. “At no time at any of the hospitals did anybody lead us any way. They gave us information and let us decide.”

He praised the Thyra M. Humphreys patient navigators.

“They get you the answers,” he said. “They get you what you need. I never felt like we were in limbo. I felt like (being with) an old friend I picked up with.”

“We never felt uninformed or misinformed or rushed,” Kathy agreed, adding that she and Bernie were so comfortable with the staff that they were often laughing together in the waiting room.

 

Innovative procedure

The Pecs I and II block procedure that Turner learned is basically an injection of pain medication into the layers of the pectoral muscles just before surgery begins. The injection contains one anesthetic with a quick onset that lasts only a few hours as well as another anesthetic that lasts several days but doesn’t start working as quickly. Between the two, pain relief is provided immediately post-surgery through several subsequent days.

“I didn’t want to go,” Turner said with a sheepish smile of the early morning lecture at the American Society of Breast Surgeons.

Skeptical that the procedure might not be as good as claimed, and not crazy about getting up so early on a Saturday after days of lectures, Turner had pretty much decided the Pecs I and II block wouldn’t be worth his time, but a colleague suggested it might help his patients.

“So I went, and it was an eye opener,” he said. “It’s one of those things you think, ‘Man, if I had known this 10 or 20 years ago.’”

For Lahr’s surgery, Turner talked with the anesthesiologist and Kauffman “because we work as a team,” and they thought it was a great idea.

 

Pain-free response

Awakening from surgery, Kathy had no pain, and hasn’t had any since. She could lift her left arm right away; the right arm took a little longer to loosen up, but again, she had no pain.

“The next day our son and Bernie and I were all just sitting there. I was up in my chair,” she said. Bernie took a picture and sent it to friends in Georgia. “They couldn’t believe I had just had surgery the day before.”

“Post-operative pain is one of the biggest stressors of patients,” Turner said, and referring to the Hippocratic Oath, he continued, “It’s always our duty to diminish suffering if we can.”

Surgery actually causes an injury to the body, but the earlier the patient gets back to moving, the better she or he will feel. The Pecs I and II block has helped other patients, as well, Turner said. He noted that when a patient needed to undergo a second surgery, her family asked for the block procedure. He laughed when he described another patient who apparently felt pretty good because she “came hopping out of her hospital room putting a shoe on.”

 

Be proactive

Kathy Lahr feels “blessed” to have had her diagnosis so early and said she would be an advocate of the Thyra M. Humphreys Center for Breast Health.

“I offer to go with women to mammograms,” she said. “You’ve got to do it. You’ve got to be proactive.”

Bernie agreed, saying, “This is something that can be fixed.”

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