A Career Passion Turned Personal

[00:00:00] Adam Walker: As a comprehensive healthcare company involved in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, Fujifilm is committed to never stop innovating for a healthier world. For more information about Fujifilm, visit Fujifilm.com/us.

From Susan G. Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.

Sometimes on our show, we hear stories of women who make career changes after they receive a breast cancer diagnosis. Some of them finding that they want to chase passions, give back to others, or perhaps simply realign their priorities. It’s less often, however, that we’re joined by women who have devoted their entire careers to the field of breast cancer and then suddenly find themselves as a patient. 

We’re lucky enough to be joined today by Tammy Handley, National Senior Manager of Clinical Operations for Women’s Health at Fujifilm Healthcare Americas Corporation and Breast Cancer Survivor. To hear her story and what it’s like when your career passion turns personal. Tammy, welcome to the show. First, I love your choice of career.

Thank you for the work that you’ve done but now let’s talk about your background. Tell our listeners about your role at Fujifilm Healthcare America’s Corporation and what your involvement has been like in the breast cancer space throughout your career. 

[00:01:22] Tammy Handley: I am a national senior project manager of clinical operations on the women’s health team with Fujifilm Healthcare Americas Corporation.

And my role there, once a sale of our Crystal, which is our mammography system, once we make that sale, it’s turned over to me. I then check to make sure that we have everything to fulfill the order, any third party involvement that we have, I request that those people get paid. I set up communication with the customer. And again, what is their objective? What are they looking to do for improvements? And then we figure out what they need from us. And then I have the entire team to bring that to them. So I manage the installers. I manage the clinical applications team as well as the IT integration.

So we have all of these calls and make sure that we’re all on the same page and that we’re bringing the customer along. Because in some cases, we’re looking at facilities that are rural health. They’ve never done mammo before, but the closest facility might be 30 minutes away.

And so they want to put it in their local doctor’s office. So then we help them through that. We work with a young lady that helps them with getting through the ACR and MQSA and all of those things. So we make sure that we understand the customer’s needs and then we start the process of installation.

We work with the medical physicist to make sure that the machine passes and it’s ready to go. Then my trainers come in and train them. And then they start using the system. And along the way, if they run into things that they need, we’re there for them to help them to make sure that it’s a good experience, and that they understand all that Fujifilm brings to their customers.

[00:03:39] Adam Walker: Sounds like you’re handling quite a few moving parts there. I love that, that’s admirable. You must be able to juggle quite a bit. So as I mentioned in the intro, you’re also a breast cancer survivor. So I wonder, can you tell us about your diagnosis? Was it recent and what was it like receiving that diagnosis with your profession being in that space as well? 

[00:04:02] Tammy Handley: Yeah. My diagnosis was 2022, March, I’m sorry- yeah, March 31st, actually. And I went for my annual mammogram, which I do every year because I know the importance of it. It’s my job. I’ve been doing mammo since 1989. So I’ve been in the field for a long time. I was in the Navy for 20 years and I’ve opened up programs in Naval hospitals, one in Guam. I really understand the importance of it. I went for my annual mammogram and I got a call back, which is not unusual.

Previously I had implants. I had an explant and that was vanity. It wasn’t, I just didn’t want the implants anymore. So I decided to explant. So I thought maybe scar tissue, something like that. When I walked in, I saw the mag stand set up and knowing what it was and what it’s used to image. I knew that they were looking at calcification. So, okay, that’s not scar tissue. So I did the mag views and the facility that I went to is 30 minutes away and the doctor there knows that I’m a mammography technologist; knows that I work for a medical imaging company. So he brought me in to show me my images.

And he said, “Honestly, they weren’t there last year. They’re very faint. “I don’t think it’s, their policy is not to follow calcifications, which is pretty standard, to not follow them and to just go ahead and biopsy. So they set me up for a biopsy, which was about a week and a half.

So you’re wondering for a week and a half, but again, I’m thinking I have no family history. No reason to think that I was going to have a positive biopsy. And I was sitting at my desk doing my work and the doctor called and said, “I would’ve bet that it was nothing. And I would have lost.” He said, “you have DCIS, which in and of itself, isn’t horrible.” DCIS is ductal carcinoma in situ. But then he said, “However, it’s high grade, and then your numbers for possible involvement of lymph nodes are also higher.” There’s a percentage that they go by and I was right at the edge of the higher percentage. He said, “I don’t want you to wait, because this could go from zero to a hundred in no time.”

He said, “You need to make decisions. However, I don’t want you getting surgery in Paris.” I live in Paris, close to Paris, Texas. It’s a small town. He said, “I want you to go to Dallas.” Okay. Gave me the name of a guy. I went in and I listened. I just didn’t want to go in with my own ideas of what I should do.

I knew what I wanted to do, but I wanted to hear the options. I have a history of blood clots, so that took one option completely off the table. I can’t have any hormone therapy. So because I also have a gene mutation for that, so I’m in a medical mess. My other choices were chemo or not chemo, sorry, radiation for five and five, which is extremely inconvenient when you’re trying to manage a group of people to be running back and forth and not feeling great. So said “okay, I want to go with the mastectomy.” He said “single?” I said, “no, double, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it.” Because I know that there’s also a risk that I can get it in the other breasts, right? Have it once, have it again, right? So I chose to have a double mastectomy and I don’t regret that for one moment. 

[00:08:06] Adam Walker: You mentioned that you knew what you wanted to do, but at the same time you wanted to hear the options, sort of keep an open mind. Did you know what you wanted to do based on your professional, long term experience? And that was the lens that you viewed it through. Is that why? 

[00:08:23] Tammy Handley: Yes, absolutely. Just knowing the possibilities that, once you have a diagnosis of breast cancer that you can have it again, it increases your risks.

I also found out some other things. I am osconazi, which also increases my risk factor. I didn’t know I was, it’s a low percentage, but it still is. So, I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder.

It’s one of those, “I got lucky this time. What happens next time? What if I have a different radiologist that doesn’t see what this one saw?” So it’s just that risk factor. And my husband was, my husband works offshore, so he was gone when I was diagnosed.

I was here by myself, with my dogs and he knew that I had the biopsy and he was fully supportive. He is definitely one of those people that got his hand on my back and helping me up the hill and not dragging me down it. 

[00:09:40] Adam Walker: So that’s good. That’s good. Glad you had that support. So I’m curious, you’ve gone through treatment; what has work been like since then? Is there like a renewed sense of passion and awareness? Tell me what that’s like. 

 [00:09:57] Tammy Handley: Absolutely. There’s always the legislation that comes through that’s “Oh, we’re going to do mammos at 40, at 50, at 60. Oh, you don’t need them anymore.” And it’s, so confusing. And if anybody asks me, my answer is going to be, “you should get your mammo every year.” I don’t care what a politician or you know, I am that person who had I not had that mammo that year, my story would have been different.

 We joke at work that, and there’s another, we have another lady that’s on my same team, she’s on the sale side that was diagnosed pretty much the same time. And hers was much, much more intense as far as what her treatment was, because she was triple negative and so she had to have chemo and she’s on Keytruda.

And so there’s a lot of things that she’s dealing with. So we have this bond that is, when we both feel down and we start to question things because you do, you get up in the morning and you look at yourself in the mirror and you go, “did I make the right choice?”I have her and she has me. So I have a lot of support. My team is incredibly supportive, because I did have to go on short term disability, and my company was fantastic with it. They guided me through it. Management has been fantastic and supportive. I couldn’t ask for a better team of people to work with in this situation.

And they’re so passionate about what they do. But yeah, it has definitely, especially in the rural environment. I’ve seen what happens when a community that hasn’t had mammo and the people haven’t gone and got their annual mammograms and they come in and they’ve got a cancer that’s the size of a quarter. And it could have been prevented. It’s preventable. The cancer’s not but the outcomes are. 

[00:12:19] Adam Walker: Right. The screening, the regular screening helps us to catch it earlier. That’s right. Now in October, I understand you attended the Massachusetts More Than Pink Walk as a part of Fujifilm’s partnership with Komen and understand that you had a mobile mammography coach there, which is amazing. I’d love to hear more about that and even go ahead and describe what a mobile mammography coach is for our listeners as well. 

[00:12:45] Tammy Handley: Okay, because we are so committed to women’s health and education, we developed a relationship with SGK to bring our coach and the continued relationship there with you. I think you worked with Henry previously, but as part of that partnership we did attend the More Than Pink and I was there for that. And some of my co workers, the other lady that I spoke about, she was there as well. But we brought our coach to the More Than Pink Walk in Cambridge, Massachusetts in October.

And we allowed women to come on and see the coach. And a mobile coach often is used to get to rural communities. In our case, it’s more of a marketing tool. It’s not, we can’t do patients on it. There’s a lot that goes with that. But we wanted to show the people that were there at the coach with our Aspire to be Fearless Mobile Coach that give them the opportunity to come in and look at our innovations for breast cancer. We’ve been committed to it, for the Aspire Crystal since 2019, but we were also one of the first, we were the first adapter to bring CRM (circadian rhythm-modulated chemotherapy), which was a type of technology. So we’ve been involved with breast cancer for a long time and on the film side as well.

So although our Aspire Crystal is newer, we’ve been involved for a very long time. And the vehicle has a waiting room in it, so it gives them a feel of what it’s going to be like on a mobile coach. There’s dressing rooms, and our latest breast imaging solutions with our 3D mammography. Our mobile coach has a PAX workstation on it so we can show what images look like. During our coach stops that we do across the country, providers will come in to look at our image quality as well as let the technologists come in and look at our comfort features, which is one of the things that we’re most proud of is our comfort features. Yeah, it’s a great coach. It shows very well, it’s got a TV in there. Which is always a plus. 

[00:15:19] Adam Walker: That’s always a plus. Okay. All right.

[00:15:20] Tammy Handley: It shows our videos and shows our technology. So it’s a really good, a good thing to be able to give people an idea of what all that we offer for women’s health. 

[00:15:29] Adam Walker: For sure. For sure. So speaking of technology, I wonder, what are some of the ways that you see technology being able to help break through some of the barriers to screening? 

[00:15:39] Tammy Handley: Like I was saying before, we have a lot of comfort features. So one of the biggest barriers of course is the fear of pain because, I heard from my grandma, I heard from my mom, they hear, “Oh, it’s so painful.”

It’s seconds, it’s literally seconds. But, we’ve developed some techniques with comfort. We have one feature is called comfort comp, and it allows us to release a little bit of the compression in the breast while still maintaining the actual millimeters of compression. So the force is less, but the millimeters of compression is the same.

It’s like we use the memory foam, as an example for that. And then we also have comfort paddles that conform to the breast. So, it’s not just a paddle that can be used on three or four patients and then everybody else gets a not so comfortable mammo. We can use it on everybody, and then the small percentage that we can’t, then we can use comfort comp. And then we do things like mood lighting and a nice pretty wrap.

Those are just nice things for aesthetics, but our technology is fast, so a lot of times worry about how long the appointments going to be because they have child care issues or they have some other kind of appointment or something that they just don’t think that they have the time for it..

When we went to SGK, we also explained some of that to the patients and let them feel, “put your arm in here, feel the comfort paddle feels like.” So we’ve really focused on comfort because that’s one of the biggest fears and then of course you have AI technology, which is something that is getting a lot of focus in the news, some bad, some good. But that AI technology and that in conjunction with DBT, which is the Tomo, breast option, those together, low dose, all of those things together make it so that the radiologist has a clear picture of what’s going on and can do an accurate read. Reduce the false positives. 

[00:18:08] Adam Walker: That’s great. I love it. I love it. It sounds like a lot of emerging technology to help with screening. 

[00:18:14] Tammy Handley: Yeah. And it’s constantly, they’ll never stop with UG is 100 percent accurate. 

[00:18:24] Adam Walker: I love it. I love that. So my next question, Tammy, studies show that up to half of all women have dense breasts. So what does it mean to have dense breasts? And then what’s the best form of screening for those patients? 

[00:18:38] Tammy Handley: Dense breasts are fibrous tissue that hold the breast tissue to get in place. And it’s all the glandular tissue, the milk ducts and the lobe, the lobes within the breast. And, so all of that tissue can overlap, and there’s less fatty tissue which is much easier to see through, so you could think of it like, still wool in a glass of water. You can see the fats, the water, and you can see around that, but you really can’t see through that still wool. It’s just that dense thing that’s in the middle of that water.

 With that being said, those women are at a higher risk of things being missed. Things like the digital breast homosynthesis will help with that because there’s a separation of tissue there, so they can see the different, it’s basically like a CAT scan where you have layers.

So they can see through things a little bit better there. There’s also M.R.I. that helps, right? That A.I. that I talked about earlier will help with the breast tissue; with some patients who are extremely dense, that’s usually what they do on an annual basis, is the M.R.I. But that’s costly, hard to find. It requires a breast coil. People think, “Oh, I get to lay down for it.” It can be just as uncomfortable. You also have people that are claustrophobic. So they can’t have those MRI screenings without being medicated. So there’s that whole piece. So some of the things that we’ve done to address breast tissue density is that we have a technology that’s called dynamic visualization for mammography. And what it does is it looks at the breast as its part. So it looks at the skin line, it looks at the pectoral muscle, it looks at the fatty tissue, it looks at that dense breast tissue and it makes it so that you can almost see through it.

So it’s like you’ve pulled that still wool apart a little bit. And you say, “Oh, there’s that little bb that I put in there. I can now see it.” So there’s, that technology is there for Fuji as well as the AI, because AI will pick up on those subtle changes and nuances. There’s also technology that identifies patients now as it’s not just an opinion of a radiologist that says this is a dense breast, it’s actually weighing it against people as a whole. So it’s looking at those density values, and they’re giving that information to the patient that’s actually required in a lot of states. So those women know “I have dense breasts. I need to ask questions. What are you doing to make sure that I get the best mammo that I’m getting?

[00:21:59] Adam Walker: Yeah. I would imagine just knowing that and knowing that you might need to ask additional questions is incredibly empowering and I would imagine very helpful. So I really appreciate you sharing that. Alright, so Tammy, I would imagine that it’s empowering being on the front lines of this issue of breast cancer.

And so again, thank you for the work that you’re doing. I think it’s so important and I love this kind of just being able to talk through the technology of this, because I think that the continued advancement of technology is also just so critically important. So, I wonder, do you have any final thoughts that you’d like to share? Any advice that you’d like to share with our listeners from your experience? 

[00:22:37] Tammy Handley: That mammographies are important. They’re the only consistent screening tool, at this time. We have other things, but mammo’s it. It’s available. Get your mammo. Don’t wait. It’s our opportunity to give back time to our families and to beat this monster that it doesn’t seem to be, there’s no way to stop it from occurring at this point that hasn’t been there, but we can stop it in its tracks and treat it. It doesn’t need to be scary. It doesn’t need to hurt. Go get your mammos. 

[00:23:24] Adam Walker: That’s right. Mammograms can catch it early and that is by far the best thing that can ever happen is to be able to catch that early. Tammy, I really appreciate you again. I appreciate the work you’re doing, appreciate the work that Fujifilm is doing. Thank you for sharing your story and for joining us on the show today. 

[00:23:42] Tammy Handley: Thank you.

[00:23:43] Adam Walker: As a comprehensive health care company involved in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment, Fujifilm is committed to never stop innovating for a healthier world. For more information about Fujifilm, please visit Fujifilm.com/us.

Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit realpink.komen.org. For more on breast cancer, visit komen.org. Make sure to check out @Susan G Komen on social media. I’m your host, Adam. You can find me on Twitter @AJ Walker, or on my blog, adamjwalker.com.