Louisville woman recounts her breast cancer surgery from small lump to fast and compassionate care

Throughout her treatment, Heather Kleisner felt the embrace of care, support and hope from everyone she encountered at Norton Cancer Institute.

Finding a lump in her breast was something Heather Kleisner didn’t have time for in her busy life. But when she did, the meetings, conference calls and event planning on her calendar quickly changed to doctor appointments, surgery and a treatment plan.

Heather had experienced this once before. A small lump discovered in 2015 during a routine mammogram resulted in a lumpectomy. Fortunately, the cancer was stage 0 and no further treatment was needed. In November 2021, she discovered a new lump in her breast. She recalls thinking, “Here we go again.”

“I was getting in the shower and noticed a lump when my hand grazed the side of my breast,” Heather said. “I wasn’t sure. I remember checking again, and again, even later in the day checking again hoping it was a mistake or something different.”

Heather contacted Gigi L. Girard, M.D., OB/GYN with Associates in Obstetrics & Gynecology, a Part of Norton Women’s Care. Dr. Girard, a breast cancer survivor herself, had Heather come in immediately.  

“With her history, Heather is at increased risk for developing cancer, and any lump needed to be evaluated quickly,” Dr. Girard said.

After an in-office breast exam, Dr. Girard wanted to get Heather in for diagnostic testing that same day.

“I remember telling her, ‘I have a lot of meetings today,’ and Dr. Girard’s response was, ‘You don’t anymore,’ and we walked directly from her office to get the mammogram and ultrasound,” Heather said.

The staff at the Derby Divas Breast Health Center at Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital jumped into action, getting a mammogram and ultrasound for Heather quickly. And within a day, Heather had her diagnosis of breast cancer. There was a large tumor in the left breast and smaller spots in the other. She would need a double mastectomy and to start a medication, tamoxifen, an estrogen blocker that would help treat her cancer.

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Feeling the embrace of care

Throughout her treatment, Heather felt the embrace of care, support and hope from everyone she encountered at Norton Cancer Institute.

“I felt it for myself; I witnessed it in the interactions with others around me,” Heather said. “It was a part of who they (the care team) are in every interaction.”

Heather appreciated the compassion, and she felt more than just support for her clinical care.

“The Norton Cancer Institute Resource Center set me up with a social worker who helped me with applying for Medicaid. Being self-employed, my insurance benefits were terrible, and I was so afraid of accumulating unending debt from the medical expenses. It was a process, and I had lots of questions along the way, but the social worker helped me and I was on Medicaid before I had my surgery. It was such a relief.”

A social worker is just one aspect of the support available through the Norton Cancer Institute Resource Centers. The five centers provide personal attention to address patients’ physical and emotional needs before, during and after cancer treatment. The centers’ offerings range from support groups to monthly classes and seminars to therapies such as reiki, tai chi, art and music — even pet therapy. Heather was particularly fond of the art therapy and the opportunity to use art to work through her emotions.

Being enrolled in Medicaid before her surgery in January 2022 helped with the financial burden ahead of Heather. The Norton Cancer Institute Resource Center social worker played a huge role in assisting Heather with the process. And by end of that same year, Heather’s cancer was considered in remission. She and her doctors will continue to monitor for any cancer closely over the next five years, a time that is considered critical for all cancer survivors.

The honoree and what it means

Over the past 17 years Derby Divas has transformed from a small gathering of 20 or so to more than 400 people raising money and awareness for breast cancer detection. To date, the Derby Divas event has raised more than $1.78 million for Norton Cancer Institute in support of breast health initiatives. This includes funding a new Norton Prevention & Wellness Mobile Prevention Center and providing mammograms and health screenings for underserved areas of our community. Every year they select an honoree, this year was Heather.

“Derby Divas is enabling women of all walks of life the ability to get their mammogram,” Heather said. “The work and dedication this group of women puts into raising money and awareness of breast cancer screenings just amazes me.”

The annual event is presented by Churchill Downs and supported by Brown-Forman, The Diaz Family Foundation, Myriad Genetics and Northern Trust.

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