Merrilyn’s Story: ‘I Truly Believe Premier Saved My Life’

Merrilyn-Mills-Wogoman_350x350During the past three years, Merrilyn Wogoman has endured a double mastectomy, 26 weeks of chemotherapy, and 10 subsequent surgeries.

Instead of feeling bitter – instead of lamenting, “Why me?” – the Brookville mother of four is feeling thankful these days. She’s grateful for a closer relationship with her family, as well as the expert medical care that has enabled her to remain a part of their lives.

“Cancer treatment was gross, it was horrible, it was nasty,” she says. “But personally it brought me back to where I needed to be. It grounded me in my relationships. I was dating a man at the time, and I was putting him at arm’s length.”

She is now married to that erstwhile boyfriend, Jeff Wogoman.  “Jeff always made sure I was being taken care of,” she says. “He worked 10 hours a day as a welder, then got up early to make sure I was at the oncologist’s office or the doctor’s office.”

Merrilyn went in for her first mammogram in June 2016, at the age of 46, simply because her employer, Premier Health, promised extra points on her health savings account. It proved to be a timely intervention; she was diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive breast cancer in July, undergoing a double mastectomy in August.

“I truly believe Premier saved my life,” she says. “If I had waited until January, who knows if I would still be here.”

Surgery was followed by 26 weeks of oral chemotherapy. Despite muscle aches, joint pain and swelling, Merrilyn continued to work as a practice manager for Premier Physical Medicine Associates and three other Premier Health practices.

It was an eye-opener to be on the receiving end of care, Merrilyn says. “I hope patients coming out of my practice always feel the same way I felt when I left. I met so many wonderful directors of practice who always made sure I had everything I needed.”

She marvels at the access to top-notch care so close to home. “I had the most amazing surgeons and oncologists,” Merrilyn says. “It’s terrifying to think of going out of town for care, when I had four kids in high school or college.”

Her medical oncologist, Charles Bane, MD, of Dayton Physician Network, a certified physician with MD Anderson Cancer Network®, a program of MD Anderson Cancer Center, at Premier Health, says that Merrilyn benefited from Premier Health’s multidisciplinary approach to care. Breast cancer specialists hold frequent conferences to compare X-rays, biopsiesand lab results. “Talking to colleagues really helps to reassure us we are making the best decisions for each person,” Dr. Bane says. “We live in a time when new techniques and treatments are being developed all the time, and regularly talking to colleagues keeps us up to date about what's new in our respective specialties.” 

Dr. Bane says Merrilyn’s care also was enhanced by the fact that Premier Health is Southwest Ohio’s only certified member of MD Anderson Cancer Network, which involves a rigorous review process. Certified cancer specialists at Premier Health discuss challenging cases with experts at MD Anderson, the top-ranked cancer center in the United States.

 “Seeking treatment far away is difficult to maintain, so our strategy is to bring that expertise right here,” explains Dr. Bane, who is chair of the Premier Health Cancer Institute. “Our weekly conferences with MD Anderson provide opportunities for providers to speak with a whole team of experts at once about best practices and strategies. In addition, Premier Health physicians also have the opportunity to discuss cases one-on-one with individual experts at MD Anderson. Treatment and follow-up go on for a long time, so having someone in the local community is very important.”

That was especially true in Merrilyn’s case, as she went through 10 additional surgeries after her mastectomy, many related to complications from her breast reconstruction. She also had a hysterectomy in March after the discovery of pre-cancerous cells in her uterus.

Merrilyn always had been the one in control, taking care of everyone else. Instead, her family members were the ones changing her drains, or standing vigil outside the bathroom door to ensure her safety.

“I became a better mom, because I allowed them to grow up and have accountability,” she says. “Not a single one of them ever complained.”

Today Merrilyn is giving back as a trainer for the LiveStrong exercise program for patients with cancer and survivors at the Kleptz YMCA in Englewood.

Her oncologist heartily approves. “Increased physical activity reduces the likelihood of recurrence,” Dr. Bane says. “The initial diagnosis is very difficult, but the vast majority of men and women with breast cancer do very well.”

Merrilyn hopes to inspire her LiveStrong class members. “I want to lead by example to make themselves a priority,” she says. “I want them to understand this is not a death sentence – to show them that I am living through this and living fully.”

 

Charles Bane, MD

Charles Bane, MD

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