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The writing's on the wall

If the walls could talk in the rooms soon to house new breast-imaging equipment at Providence Medford Medical Center, they'd shout words of encouragement.

The words would come from survivors, hospital staff and others affected by breast cancer who were moved to mark down their thoughts on drywall Friday afternoon as construction was underway to expand three small rooms into two larger ones at the Leila J. Eisenstein Breast Center on the Providence campus.

The work was being done to fit two new tomosynthesis imaging machines, a technology that offers three-dimensional breast scans.

One woman who declined to give her name wrote an angry message to cancer: "You took my mom!"

A sign in the waiting room captured the optimism of new technology to come. 

"Please excuse our dust. We're making room to save more lives," it read.

By noon, more than 10 tags with messages such as "#fightlikeagirl" were marked on the bare Sheetrock.

"They put out the word yesterday at the last minute," said Ryan Hutchinson, who manages the center. "This is really hard on our staff. We want to make this special."

The first of the two imaging machines is slated to be installed in August, according to Hutchinson. The second will be fully operational in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. The long-term gains mean short-term sacrifices, however, as the center increases staff hours to make do with a single mammography machine. Hutchinson explained that all of the hospitals in the Providence health system eventually will receive the advanced imaging machines, but Medford will have them first.

"We want tomo to be the standard of care for all our patients at Providence," Hutchinson said. "This is the direction they're all going."

The technology behind 3-D-tomography has been around for about three years, Hutchinson said. Whereas a traditional mammogram is similar to a two-dimensional X-Ray, the new equipment is similar to a CT scan, and can show cross-sectional scans for a better reading of breast tissues. 

"This is like a book," Hutchinson said. "You get layers of information."

For times when the traditional mammogram image is preferred, the system assembles the 3-D scans into a high-resolution 2-D image.

"You can smoosh those 3-D images and have a single 2-D image," Hutchinson said.

Better scans lead to earlier detection and more accurate results, reducing anxiety-inducing false positives and uncertainty, Hutchinson said.

"Breast tomo reduces callbacks 16 percent," Hutchinson said. "You're getting a better image at the same radiation dose."

The optimism in the center was powerful for breast cancer survivor Becky Wise-Bono of Melrose, Mass.  She grabbed a marker as her daughter, Nicki Pelz, who works at the hospital in general surgery, prepared for a mammogram.

"Fight like a girl with girl power," Wise-Bono wrote.

After a bad experience in Melrose, located in the greater Boston area, with a doctor she described as "careless," Wise-Bono turned to Providence Medford Medical Center for much of her care. She had the Melrose hospital send test results to her daughter in Medford. She scheduled her check-ups and other examinations at Providence.

Wise-Bono moved out of the Rogue Valley about 15 years ago but says she plans to return to Southern Oregon someday.

"I had all my procedures done in Boston, and all my questions answered here," Wise-Bono said. "This is where my home is, and this is where I got my answers."

The fact that her mother trusted Pelz and the Providence staff over a hospital in a major metropolitan area moved Pelz deeply.

"I was proud," Pelz said. "Her entire care would not have been offered there."

Pelz's message on the wall: "Together we can save lives."

Wise-Bono's cancer fight also allowed Pelz to more personally understand patients facing breast cancer and their families' concerns.

"It gave me a different perspective," Pelz said.

As construction continues and the new machines are installed, the walls will need to be covered again. Hutchinson said they plan to photograph and frame the messages in the breast center's lobby.

As terrifying as facing breast cancer was for Wise-Bono, she found strength in the experience.

"It's very empowering to make it through and know that you can beat it," Wise-Bono said. "It made me a whole lot stronger than I ever thought I could be."

Reach newsroom assistant Nick Morgan at 541-776-4477 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com.

Providence's Leila J. Eisenstein Breast Center invited breast cancer survivors, victims and loved ones Friday to sign the wall of its new 3D mammography facility. Photo by JD ANDERSON
Breast cancer survivor Becky Wise-Bono made the trip to Providence Medford Medical Center Friday to support her daughter, Nicki Pelz, and to sign the wall of the new 3D Mammogram facility in the Leila J. Eisenstein Breast Center. Photo by JD ANDERSON