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Oncology nurse supports mother through breast cancer

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Oncology nurse supports mother through breast cancer

She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the peak of the pandemic and Barbara Schneider found strength and guidance through her daughter – an IU Health oncology nurse.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

She likes to say that she has only been a Hoosier for four months. It was April when Barbara “Barb” Schneider and her husband put their Geneva, Ill. home on the market. In June, they packed their belongings and moved to Indianapolis.

“If there’s one thing COVID taught us to appreciate it is being near family,” said Schneider, who turned 60 the beginning of September. Married 30 years to her husband, Mark, they are the parents to twin boys, Ryan and Kevin, 25, who live in California; and a daughter, Kate Phillips, 28, who is an oncology nurse at IU Health Simon Cancer Center.

With a family history of breast cancer, Schneider had a baseline mammogram at the age of 32. Over the years, she became part of a high-risk program at a hospital in Illinois and had mammograms or MRIs every six months. Many of those resulted in biopsies – all benign – until last February.

“My grandmother died of breast cancer and my aunt had breast cancer. When they talk about the statistic of women who get breast cancer – one in eight - I knew it wasn’t if I’d get breast cancer; it was when I’d get breast cancer,” said Schneider. She has undergone genetic testing and found no evidence of a hereditary diagnosis.

Initially, the cancer showed up in her left breast but further testing showed it was also in her right breast. It wasn’t the first medical challenge for Schneider. She also has an auto immune disease, had a heart attack in 2016, and was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in two years ago.

“All those things made me a higher risk for surgery,” said Schneider. Her surgeon in Illinois offered three possible treatment options: A lumpectomy with radiation; a single mastectomy in her left breast; or a double mastectomy.

“Throughout all of this my daughter was a huge source of support for me. As an oncology nurse, she was a wonderful sounding board and she understood my risks and understood my mentality in making my decision,” said Schneider.

That decision was a double mastectomy without reconstruction, performed at an Illinois hospital on March 17 – the same day the state went on lockdown.

“At this point in my life, I did not want to worry about implants and something that is unnatural to my body. At 60, my body has served me well I don’t need my breasts to appreciate that,” said Schneider. The procedure she opted for is medically known as “Aesthetic Flat Closure (AFC),” and involves the reconstruction of a flat chest. Extra skin, fat, and tissue in the breast are removed and the remaining tissue is tightened and smoothed so the chest wall appears flat.

“Everything healed and my other medical issues are under control. I truly believe I made the right decision for me,” said Schneider. “We knew IU Health as a teaching hospital and we know its reputation,” said Schneider. With the help of her daughter, she is in the process of establishing new physicians and has been in the care of IU Health’s Dr. Megan Cox, specializing in family medicine, and Dr. Michael Blakley, who specializes in internal medicine and rheumatology.

In her spare time, Schneider enjoys reading and sewing crafts. In Illinois she volunteered at a cancer center and hopes to again volunteer in her new home state.

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