MiraCosta dean beats cancer with local care

ENCINITAS — Over the years Encinitas has emerged as the Flower Capital and Surf Center. Today, it’s also recognized as a top-tier healthcare destination.
The process has been so gradual that it has gone unnoticed for many in the community.
This is not the case with Sally Foster, dean of MiraCosta College, San Elijo campus. Foster attributes her smooth recovery from breast cancer 11 years ago to her decision to access treatment locally.
During a yearly exam in November 1998, a nurse practitioner in Dr. Linda Falconio’s office at 499 N. El Camino Real felt a small lump in Foster’s left breast.
 “She said she wanted me to have a mammogram,” Foster explained. “I said I didn’t think I needed one because I had one the previous year.”
In December, while Foster was getting ready for a Christmas party in her Village Park home, she received a phone call every woman dreads.
“My doctor’s office called saying they needed to speak with me urgently,” she said. “That was when I learned the mammogram had shown a suspicious lump.”
A needle biopsy in January was inconclusive. When a surgical biopsy confirmed the results of the mammogram a lumpectomy was scheduled.
These and subsequent procedures were coordinated between a variety of medical groups specializing in cancer treatment at the North Coast Health Center at the 477 campus.
“I walked from my home to the lumpectomy in mid-January 1999,” Foster said.
Unfortunately, the procedure didn’t yield clear borders. A week later her surgeon was able to re-enter the incision and obtain a lemon-size sample, this time with clear borders. The news wasn’t good. The lesion was positive.
“I don’t sit around and let life happen to me,” Foster said. “I made a list which included talking to the director of human resources at the college about my options at work, checking in with my primary mentor at work to discuss the issue with her, and then researching oncologists in my area. That’s how I found Dr. Frakes.”
Foster was able to schedule an appointment right away with oncologist Dr. Laurie Frakes, also in the 477 building.
“Dr. Frakes scheduled one-and-a-half hours to allow me to ask questions,” Foster said. “That’s unheard of.  She recommended chemotherapy followed by radiation.”
Foster scheduled radiation in Dr. Frakes’ office around her work schedule between February and May.
“I was able to schedule chemo for 2:30 p.m. on Thursdays and stay in bed Friday, Saturday and Sunday and return to work on Monday,” she said. “I had weekly lab appointments to test my white blood cell levels, also in the 477 building.”
Foster followed chemotherapy with radiation from May through June, again in the 477 building.
She complemented her treatment with yoga and chiropractic adjustments.
“Dr. Michael Cabello (in Encinitas) treated me for free since I exhausted all my visits through my insurance,” she said. “He said my spine needed to be aligned during treatment so all the fluids could flow through.”
Throughout her ordeal Foster only missed five days of work. 
Her plan served her well.
“I received first-rate, state-of-the-art treatment in Encinitas,” she said. “You want to be close to home and in a comfortable and familiar environment with your family near you. If I had to travel it would have been very disruptive to my lifestyle. I was able to have dinner each night with my sons.”
Foster said another advantage was the support she received from her neighbors and, particularly, her extended family at MiraCosta College.
After receiving her diagnosis in January, Foster asked to make a short statement at a campuswide assembly featuring the traditional State of the College address and rally.
“I took two minutes to tell my colleagues of my diagnosis and to explain that I was going to continue working,” she said. “I encouraged all the women to have their yearly mammogram and the men to have their prostrate checked. That got a laugh, albeit a nervous one.”
Foster was not prepared for the magnitude of support that resulted.
“For the next three months I received at least one card per day, chocolates and words of encouragement,” she said. “I thought someone had organized a round-robin, but it turns out it was just the spontaneous outpouring of my friends and colleagues. MiraCosta is a very tightly knit family of workers, and everyone came to my aid during the months of treatment.”
Foster followed up with exams every three months, then every six months. After three years, she returned to yearly exams.
Today, Foster is under the care of Dr. Georgine Jorgensen, a primary physician at the North Coast Family Medical Group, which is also located in the 477 building. After receiving her B.A. from Colgate University, Jorgensen went on to earn an MPH from Boston University and graduate from George Washington Medical School. She did her residency at UCSD. Dr. Jorgensen speaks Greek, Spanish and English.
 The North Coast Health Center doesn’t only treat cancer patients, it offers more than 50 different specialties for children and adults. This month a wound center and the largest outpatient  hyperbaric chamber in California will make its debut.
But good medicine is not only about technology. Many of the medical groups integrate traditional medicine with complementary therapies such as naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, yoga, massage, herbal medicine and hypnosis.
Around the corner on Garden View Road, the San Diego Cancer Center has embarked on an exciting joint genomics project with Scripps Health, through the Scripps Translational Science Institute. The project will be the first-of-its-kind clinical research trial for cancer patients that will analyze and compare the genomics of tumor tissue with the individual’s core (native, germ-line) DNA. The hope is the data will lead to individualized therapies for cancer patients. “The science exists to allow us to sort out what are the new mutations that account for the development of the cancer, which will bring us closer to identifying the right course of treatment not only for each type of cancer, but for each individual patient,” said Dr. Eric Topol, chief academic officer of Scripps Health and principal investigator of the study.
The next installment of the series on health care in Encinitas will explore how Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas has kept abreast with population growth and advancements in medicine and technology. 

SIDEBAR: About North Coast Health Center

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