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'Shock of All Shocks:' Young Mom Fights Breast Cancer with Collaborative Care Team

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Megan Pinkham is a breast cancer survivor and received her cancer treatments at the Integrated Cancer Center.

Megan Pinkham and her husband, Joel, were attempting to grow their young family, which includes now two-and-a-half year old son, Titus. At the time Megan began doing fertility testing, she consulted with Dr. Laura Witthoeft of Dubuque OB-GYN about something feeling off with her breasts.

After breastfeeding Titus, she attributed the abnormal feeling to nursing her baby.

However, her first-ever mammogram proved the initial suspicion to be wrong, as Megan was eventually diagnosed with breast cancer in November of 2021. 

"It was pretty overwhelming," Megan said. "Cancer was not something on my mind at the time. It truly was the shock of all shocks that it was cancer."

Shortly after receiving her initial diagnosis of breast cancer, the first step in Megan's cancer treatment journey was chemotherapy with Grand River Medical Group. Prior to beginning chemotherapy treatments, Megan had a surgery to insert a port and to her surprise, she bonded with some "breast cancer sisters" on the day of her surgery.

"A few of the nurses in the prep area were sharing their own stories or experiences with breast cancer," Megan said. "One of the nurses had actually gone through this herself and even showed me her reconstruction process. That showed me this experience was normal and gave me the encouragement to go through this hard journey."

Following her port surgery, Megan started her chemotherapy treatments, which lasted approximately four months. After completing chemotherapy, Megan underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction surgery in April with Dr. Phillip Bailey of Dubuque Surgery and Dr. Patrick Hawkes of the University of Iowa, respectively. 

The next step in Megan's cancer journey was to undergo 25 rounds of radiation therapy with the Wendt Regional Cancer Center

Throughout her experience with the Wendt Center staff, Megan felt taken care of every step of the way.

"The team at the Wendt Center is excellent, especially the [radiation] techs and nurses," Megan said. "They were very kind and there was no dumb question to ask - all questions were welcome. They are just a cheery bunch and that is very helpful."

One member of her care team stuck out in particular, Chris Brimeyer, one of the radiation therapists, who operates a linear accelerator that delivers radiation therapy and answers any questions patients may have regarding their treatment plan.

Megan remembers having a few personally challenging days during her time as a patient in the Wendt Center, and Chris was there to provide assurance and emotional support when Megan needed it most.

"I had some hard days personally this summer and Chris, in particular, kind of picked up on that," Megan said. "She was super kind and helpful with hugs when things were hard and sat with me to encourage me. That support means everything."

Once Megan completed her 25th round of radiation therapy, it was time to celebrate. Not only for finishing radiation therapy treatments, but all that she had overcome during her nine-month fight with breast cancer. 

Ringing the bell at the Wendt Center provided Megan with an opportunity to reflect on all that she has faced to be where she is today.

"It was a really long nine months of the waiting, which was really hard and just going through the treatments," Megan said. "There were a lot of helpful people throughout my journey, including people who were praying for me. I credit making it through this to smart medical people and belief in a God who heals."

Now, Megan is undergoing physical therapy and lymphedema therapy treatments at UnityPoint Health - Finley Hospital Asbury Square Outpatient Rehab, as a way to avoid lymphedema, a chronic swelling that results from damage to the lymphatic system.

"The therapists are helping me recover the range of motion that I lost from surgery, and we're being proactive to avoid Lymphedema," Megan said.

By choosing to receive her cancer treatments at Grand River Medical Group and the Wendt Center, Megan was able to benefit from having her cancer treatments in one location at the Integrated Cancer Center - where Dubuque's cancer care leaders are stronger together.

"We have excellent doctors here, and it was nice to have that confirmed through conversations with other people about how great the Integrated Cancer Center is," Megan said.

Megan and Titus Pinkham.

\Going through breast cancer has enabled Megan to utilize a new outlook on life, while also allowing her to refocus on the things that matter most - being a wife and even more importantly, a mom.

"I'm looking forward to taking care of my son more on my own," Megan said.

As a new breast cancer survivor, Megan has learned a lot of lessons throughout her treatment journey, which she wants to share with others who may be going through their own fight with cancer.

One of the key components to a successful cancer treatment journey is maintaining a positive attitude, which Megan did through different activities like writing personal Valentine's Day cards to her chemotherapy team, going out for chips and queso after cutting her hair before starting chemotherapy treatments, and bringing a purple feather boa to her bell ringing at the Wendt Center.

Megan Pinkham ringing the bell at the Wendt Regional Cancer Center.

"Find the little things that make the hard things fun," Megan said. 

Throughout her experience, Megan felt like she mattered to this world, no matter who was caring for her - a medical oncologist, surgeon, or radiation oncologist.

It's attributed to the thoughtful and compassionate care her cancer team provided right here, close to home. 

"Getting to know the staff personally was really uplifting and made me feel like they cared about me as a person and not just a patient," Megan said. "That's true of all of my care I have had in Dubuque, whether it's through surgery, chemo, radiation, or otherwise."

Megan, Titus, and Joel Pinkham.