Gail Raddatz likes a good road trip and embracing the journey. She and husband, Keith Raddatz, like to hit the open road with their motorcycle and RV. They have visited all 50 U.S. states and are working on getting to every U.S. national park.
"We worked our whole lives for this, and love to go to places we haven't been before," says the 71-year-old Sparta, Wisconsin, resident.
In 2021, Gail found herself in an all-too-familiar place and one that she wasn't excited about revisiting. A routine mammogram detected three suspicious spots in her breast tissue. It was a reminder of her previous diagnosis with aggressive endometrial cancer and subsequent hysterectomy. A second cancer journey was not on Gail's plan.
A mammogram confirmed that she had a mass deep in her breast. Two biopsies showed the Gail had stage 1 breast cancer at one site and intraductal carcinoma at the other site. After doing genetic testing to determine that the cancer would likely return, her health care team in La Crosse recommended a lumpectomy to remove the breast tissue. Unfortunately, this surgery could not be scheduled for two months. Gail knew that traveling across town for care was the best option for her.
"I thought, 'I don't think I can live like this,'" Gail says. "The waiting was going to be too hard, so I decided to see if Mayo could get me in any sooner."
She called Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse and was able to get an appointment a week later at the Center for Breast Care with surgeon M. Kathleen Christian, M.D. Keith and a friend who had been through a previous breast cancer diagnosis went with her to gather information.
"Dr. Christian answered all of our questions, and we had a lot of questions," says Gail. "She spent as much time with us as we needed and talked with us like she had known us forever."
It's all part of her role as a surgeon, explains Dr. Christian.
"Building a relationship and trust with patients is our priority," says Dr. Christian. "Facing a cancer diagnosis is a scary time. Patients need to feel confident that all their questions are answered, their needs are addressed, and they are in the right hands."
Two weeks later, Gail underwent breast conserving surgery with two site lumpectomies at Mayo Clinic Health System. Dr. Christian and the surgical team removed the areas of cancer in her breast with a small amount of normal tissue to ensure they got all the cancer.
"Gail did great during surgery and recovery," says Dr. Christian. "We were able to excise both cancer sites with clear margins. Because the cancer sites were small with a good prognosis, she was able to undergo a radiation regimen with only five treatments, and chemotherapy was not recommended."
Gail talked with her primary care professional about where to get her radiation.
"They said, 'Stay with your surgeon and with Mayo.' So I did."
Shortly after her surgery, Gail semiretired from her career as an accountant.
"They wouldn't let me quit completely," she says laughing.
She completed five rounds of radiation in February, and a follow-up mammogram showed she was cancer-free. Soon, she and Keith began making travel plans for the coming year, including a road trip to multiple national parks.
"We are able to do everything that we want, but I do feel tired sometimes," she says, now 10 months after surgery. "Overall, I'm feeling really good."
Dr. Christian says that Gail's story is a good example of how health care teams work together across organizations to do what is best for each patient.
"We were happy to care for Gail and get her the care she needed quickly. Time is of the essence with breast cancer," says Dr. Christian. "Sometimes that means taking a journey across the state or, in this case, just across town, to get care as soon as possible."