Cancer survivor, Deanna Owens smiles with her husband on a dinner date. Deanna Owens has believed in the importance of regular medical care for her entire life. The 83-year-old says she probably hasn’t missed an annual mammogram since she began yearly screening many decades ago. When her Memorial Hermann affiliated primary care physician, Dr. Heather Hamilton, reminded her it was time to be screened this year, Deanna didn’t hesitate. That decision may have saved her life.

The screening mammogram detected an abnormality and after follow-up testing including a breast biopsy, Deanna was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Dr. Hamilton referred her to Dr. Mike Ratliff, breast surgeon affiliated with Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital and Breast Program Director. He also serves as liaison for the Memorial Hermann Health System cancer program.

“Early detection may have saved Deanna’s life, and it certainly made her treatment much simpler, so she was quickly able to return to being cancer-free,” said Dr. Ratliff. The Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Greater Heights was recently awarded the Surgical Quality Partner Award from the American College of Surgeons in conjunction with the National Accreditation for Breast Centers. “We hold ourselves to a very high standard and this accreditation confirms that,” he said. “Our entire multidisciplinary care team is incredibly proud of our award-winning program.”

The Importance of Early Detection

Deanna says she was blindsided by her diagnosis. “At 83 years old, you don’t think you’ll get cancer. You think you’re through with all that stuff,” she said, laughing.

She credits Dr. Ratliff and the team for walking her though the entire process and calming her fears about having surgery. Dr. Ratliff met with Deanna, her husband, Gerald, and their daughter, Jerri, to discuss options for moving forward. “After evaluating her test results, we were gratified to discover that Deanna’s breast-cancer disease was in an early stage. She was in otherwise great health and was a good candidate for a partial mastectomy surgical procedure,” Dr. Ratliff said.

The procedure included a sentinel lymph node biopsy which allows the surgeon to examine the area in the armpit that can trap cancer cells that may have left the breast. Performing this delicate procedure involves using advanced technology with the goal of ultimately removing less lymph tissue than with previous treatment options. When the biopsy was complete, Dr. Ratliff was confident the cancer had not spread into the lymph nodes, and he was able to leave more of Deanna’s tissue intact, which helps to reduce post-operative pain and speeds recovery. “Catching it early was essential,” said Dr. Ratliff. “The cancer was contained, and we successfully removed it. She recovered without issue.”

Deanna was grateful to be able to raise her arm within a week of surgery, and says she experienced very little pain. “I just had to take the whole thing in stride and keep going,” said Deanna. “Gerald says if you live long enough, something is going to happen, and I guess he’s right, but it went really well, and I don’t need chemotherapy or radiation.”

A Team Effort

Patients at Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Greater Heights benefit from a centralized care team. Everything is in the same location—imaging, lab, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation—which makes a difference when facing the challenges and anxiety that come with being treated for cancer. “I felt comfortable knowing a whole team was looking out for me,” said Deanna.

Dr. Ratliff runs the weekly cancer conference where he meets with affiliated medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and other specialists to discuss the unique needs and goals of each patient in their care. “Before Deanna’s surgery, we all met as a team to talk about the best plan for her. It is a truly comprehensive, all-hands-on-deck approach,” he said.

The Highest Standards

Being accredited and awarded by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC) establishes Memorial Hermann Cancer Center-Greater Heights as a premier center for breast-cancer care. The designation is reserved for facilities that demonstrate the highest standards and consistently provide state-of-the-art care in medicine, surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, genetic support services and social support services. It is one of only four in the Houston area and one of 33 in Texas. “Earning this accreditation is a rigorous process and sets us apart from other health teams,” Dr. Ratliff said.

Living a Healthy Life

After recovering from surgery and being declared cancer-free, Deanna is back to enjoying her daily life with Gerald. Their Friday nights are reserved for dinner out with a group of four couples, and they have resumed kicking off each weekend with lively conversation at local restaurants. “We really enjoy each other,” said Deanna.

Dr. Ratliff encourages women to stay consistent with annual screening mammograms, because when cancer is discovered early it is much more treatable. “There’s a debate about whether women can stop mammograms at a certain age, but I am of the opinion that women should not stop,” he said.

Deanna agrees, wholeheartedly. “Just look at me,” she said. “I have gone every year and they never found anything until now. Who knows what might have happened if I skipped this year?”

The breast cancer treatment program at Memorial Hermann Cancer Center – Greater Heights is accredited by the American College of Surgeons National Accreditation Program for Breast Cancer (NAPBC), for delivering the highest standard of care. The NAPBC provides the structure and resources to operate a high-quality breast center. Accredited programs follow a model that facilitates multidisciplinary, integrated, comprehensive breast cancer services. The center was reaccredited for the fourth time in early 2023.

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For more information about Memorial Hermann Cancer Centers, including how to get connected to our support services or an affiliated provider, please call (833) 770-7771 or fill out the form below to be connected to one of our Oncology Nurse Navigators.


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