Delivering caring, personalized, quality healthcare to women in an environment that is supportive, education-focused and compassionate.

Author: Kimberly Romo

TMC baby provides life-saving stem cells to a child with leukemia through cord blood donation program

Somewhere in the Tucson area, there’s a 10-month-old baby who was born at Tucson Medical Center last spring and provided life-saving stem cells to a patient who had no other treatment options.

And somewhere in Colorado, that patient – a child who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia – received the transfusion he or she so desperately needed.

AZPCBP_2ccThe match was made possible because of the Arizona Public Cord Blood Program, which TMC joined in October 2014. The program also includes three Phoenix-area hospitals and gives expectant parents the option to donate their baby’s umbilical cord blood – which is rich in stem cells – if they’re not going to pay to have it privately banked and don’t want it to go to waste. Donated cord blood is listed on the Be The Match national registry.

Since the program’s inception in 2011, 30 life-saving matches have been made including this one – the first match for TMC.

Maya

Maya Adams

The baby was delivered by Maya Adams, a midwife with El Rio Community Health Center. “It gives me goose bumps to think how we have been able to give hope to that family in Colorado,” said Adams, who credits the donor family and TMC for the match. “I’m just happy to have helped make a difference.”

And for Adams, the news is bittersweet. Her father passed away from leukemia a year and a half ago after he ran out of treatment options.

“This family in Colorado is so blessed to have the opportunity to have a different outcome than my father had,” she said.

Nurse Erica Schroyer and cord blood consenter Ali Baker were also part of the collection.

Erica

Erica Schroyer

When Schroyer received word about the match, she was really moved. “Our nursing staff saves lives and changes lives for the better every day, and it is a blessing every time. With the cord blood donation program, we offer our patient families that incredible opportunity to save a life as well.”

Baker added, “I was so excited to learn that one of our cord blood units was used for transplant! It is so encouraging to know that the selfless generosity of this donor family combined with our efforts has made all the difference in the world to a leukemia patient and their family. The positive ripple effect our program creates is truly immeasurable, and I’m looking forward to more matches in 2016.”

IMG_5447

Ali Baker

According to Be The Match, cord blood is rich in stem cells and can often be used in place of bone marrow. A transplant replaces a patient’s unhealthy cells with healthy ones. Bone marrow requires a near perfect match – seven or eight out of eight markers. But cord blood only requires four out of six markers be matched. Also with cord blood, if a matching unit is identified, the patient can receive that blood in mere days. With bone marrow, it may take weeks or more as the donor is located and the preparation work is done. And finally, cord blood transplant recipients are less likely to get graft-versus-host disease after their transplant. The disease presents itself in the form of a rash all over the patient’s body.

“We are so appreciative to Maya and all of our providers who have helped make this program so successful, so quickly,” said Kristen Wilt, TMC cord blood coordinator. “As part of this program, we are asking providers to collect this blood out of the goodness of their hearts. While it only takes a few minutes to do, it does require extra effort and skill. This match is proof that investing in that little extra time after delivery can have a tremendous impact.“

The program is free for patients, and everything is kept confidential. Since a patient’s privacy is protected, no other details about the baby or the recipient will be made available.

The Save the Cord Foundation, a Tucson-based nonprofit, is proud to partner with the program and be the voice for unbiased cord blood education and awareness.

More information about the program can be found by clicking here.

Click here to see a new video about Dylan Praskins, an Arizona boy whose life was saved because of donated cord blood.

Baby Hailey helps us reach 1000 units of publicly donated umbilical cord blood!

1000 cord blood unitTMC and the Save the Cord Foundation are proud to announce that TMC for Women has collected the 1,000th unit of umbilical cord blood as part of the Arizona Public Cord Blood Program. TMC is one of four hospitals in Arizona, and the only hospital in Southern Arizona, to give expectant parents the option to donate their baby’s umbilical cord blood as part of this program.

AZPCBP_2ccSince the program’s inception, 28 cord blood units have been selected for patients in need of a life-saving stem cell transplant.

Donated cord blood that meets a certain set of criteria will be included on the Be The Match national registry where it could save the life of someone with a life-threatening disease who needs a stem cell transplant.

Noncontroversial umbilical cord blood is a precious resource to a patient in need of a life-saving stem cell transplant. This blood is rich in stem cells, which can renew themselves and grow into mature blood cells. It’s been proven to cure and treat as many as 80 diseases, and can be used for transplantation for adult and pediatric patients with leukemia, lymphoma and other life-threatening blood diseases. More than 22,000 patients around the world have received transplants from donations to public cord blood banks.

Donating cord blood does not hurt the mother or the baby. It does not change a woman’s labor or delivery, and donation to a public bank is free. TMC started offering this program Oct. 1, 2014.

cord blood donation

Amy Vasquez and Chris Colbert with baby Hailey

“We are thrilled at the success of our program in its first year,” said Kristen Wilt, TMC cord blood coordinator. “We feel so fortunate to have the support of Tucson’s nonprofit community hospital, two dedicated consenters who are on the front line of this program, and wonderful physicians who champion this effort. They take the time to collect this blood because they believe in our mission and know it’s better than having it discarded as medical waste.”The 1,000th unit of cord blood was collected from Hailey Vasquez who was born at TMC for Women on November 5th to parents Amy Vasquez and Chris Colbert. They said when they were approached by one of TMC’s cord blood consenters, their decision to participate in the program was easy. “I’m amazed that something that is so quick, easy and safe to collect may be so beneficial to somebody else,” said Colbert. “I’m in awe that my beautiful, healthy daughter who just came into the world may save someone’s life someday, just by being born.”

The Save the Cord Foundation, a Tucson-based nonprofit, is proud to partner with the program and be the voice for unbiased cord blood education and awareness.

“Establishing this program at TMC is a dream come true,” said Charis Ober, founder of the Save the Cord Foundation. “On the Be The Match registry, there is a significant shortage of blood from Hispanic, black, mixed ethnicity and Native Americans. The demographic TMC serves, and the number of babies delivered there – more than 5,500 in 2014 – has the potential to make a significant positive impact on the national registry, essentially giving more people a better chance at finding a match. This program is our passion, and we couldn’t ask for a better hospital partner.”

TMC is one of four Arizona hospitals supported by the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Arizona Public Cord Blood Program.

More information about the program can be found at http://www.tmcaz.com/cord-blood-donation-program.

Do you believe this Breast Cancer Treatment Myth? TMC One’s breast oncology surgeon weighs in on cancer diagnoses

Throughout the month of October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we tapped into the expertise of Dr. Michele Boyce Ley, TMC One’s  board-certified breast oncology surgeon and medical director of TMC’s Breast Health Program. We’ve shared information with you including how to assess your breast cancer risk, asked her to weigh in on breast cancer myths about breast screening including mammography and self-breast exams and had her tell us what to do – and consider – if you find a lump in your breast.

To round out this blog series, we asked her opinion on a story that was recently released by the Susan G. Komen organization titled: Debunking Five Common Myths About Breast Cancer Treatment.

We decided to focus on the three Dr. Boyce Ley thought would be the most meaningful.

Breast Cancer Treatment Myth #1

I don’t have time to get a second opinion because I must begin treatment as soon as possible.

BDP36480First – that second opinion issue. “Second opinions are important for a couple of reasons,” said Dr. Boyce Ley. “Maybe the physician you initially went to isn’t a breast specialist. Or maybe they’re just not a good fit for you. Women need to know that it’s OK to find another doctor! Don’t worry about offending your current doctor or the person who referred you to them. It’s your health. People need to feel empowered to get multiple opinions.” Dr. Boyce Ley added that second opinions are also great because perhaps the first time around, you didn’t quite understand all of the information. Or maybe one physician has a treatment option that another doctor didn’t offer you.

Second – how soon after diagnosis should treatment start? The National Breast and Cervical Center Early Detection Program guidelines recommend starting treatment within 60 days of being diagnosed. Dr. Boyce Ley said that timeframe is readily accepted by most people – that two months is the maximum amount of time a patient should wait before starting therapy. She added that most patients in Southern Arizona begin therapy within a month of being diagnosed. “I think this is really hard for patients,” she said. “They feel like it’s an emergency, but realistically, it takes years for the cancer to grow. A couple of weeks in the life of breast cancer doesn’t change the outcome. Even a patient with an aggressive cancer will usually start therapy within a week or two.”

Breast Cancer Treatment Myth #2

Everyone diagnosed with breast cancer dies from breast cancer or everyone diagnosed with breast cancer survives.

Dr. Boyce Ley stressed that breast cancer is not a death sentence. With modern treatment, an estimated 90 percent of women with early-stage breast cancer will go on to live five or more years after diagnosis without it recurring. Of course survival rates vary based on what stage the cancer is in and what kind of behavior the breast cancer has. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are about three million breast cancer survivors in the United States. However, more than 40,000 women and more than 400 men still die from breast cancer every year. The reality is that while most people will survive breast cancer, unfortunately some patients will not.

Breast Cancer Treatment Myth #3

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are more harmful than helpful.

Decades of breast cancer research have proven that chemotherapy and radiation therapy saves lives. “We know that these are two things that contribute to better survival,” said Dr. Boyce Ley. “Historically, doctors have gone from giving no chemotherapy to giving too much chemotherapy and now we’re working hard to give patients just the right amount.”

She added that doctors these days have lots of ways to analyze a patient’s cancer to identify more clearly what treatment would benefit the patient. This allows a treatment plan to be tailored to that specific patient. “We have ways to identify which patients are going to benefit from which targeted therapies,” said Dr. Boyce Ley. “The same can be said for targeted radiation. We have the ability to target one part of the breast where the cancer is and avoid radiation damage to the heart and lungs. Those are things we didn’t have available to us 15 years ago.”

Dr. Boyce Ley is located at TMC One, 2424 N. Wyatt Drive #100, on the TMC campus. Call (520) 324-BRST (2778) to make an appointment.

To schedule a mammogram, call (520) 324-2075. For more information about our free mammogram program for uninsured women, call the TMC for Women Breast Center at
(520) 324-1286 to review qualifications and schedule an appointment.

You’ve found a lump in your breast. Now what?

WhattodoifyoufindalumpDr. Michele Boyce Ley, TMC One’s new board-certified breast oncology surgeon and medical director of TMC’s Breast Health Program, has shared her expertise with us over the past few weeks about how to assess your breast cancer risk. She also helped us clarify some myths about breast screening including mammography, while stressing the importance of being aware of changes in your body. Having a good gauge on what your breasts normally feel like will help you know when something isn’t quite right.

So – what if you find something?

1. Connect with your primary care physician

Dr. Boyce Ley said your best bet is to start with your primary care physician. Don’t have one? Chances are you’ll find one you totally connect with at TMC One. Your physician will typically order breast imaging. A mammogram and ultrasound can solve many questions without escalating it to a breast specialist.

2. Determine if it is time for a breast specialist

When should your first call be to a breast specialist? If you notice changes with your nipple or if your breast has suddenly changed color, size, shape or texture. Dr. Boyce Ley said she often sees women who, upon finding an abnormal mass in their breast, instantly jump to a worst case scenario – “who will take care of my kids when I die?” She advises women in this situation to keep this in mind: “Most of the time, it’s not going to be cancer,” said Dr. Boyce Ley, “but that still means you should pursue it. Even if you have an abnormal screening mammogram, the chance of finding a cancer is very small. A majority of the time, we may need to do further testing but oftentimes it turns out to be something benign like a cyst or overlapping breast tissue. Those are the two most common things we find.”

The take away message: Statistically, it’s unlikely that the mass you feel is going to be cancer.If it is cancer, it’s likely small and easily treatable.

3. Get a second opinion

If the initial imaging shows the mass is benign, but your physician recommends a biopsy, Dr. Boyce Ley said it’s not a bad idea to get a second opinion before getting a biopsy. Sometimes the recommendation to biopsy may differ from physician to physician and some things can be followed with imaging and exams. You may feel an urgency to get an answer but taking your time to make a good choice is important. However, Dr. Boyce Ley cautioned that if a biopsy is recommended for you, follow through with it because it could save your life.

4. Take a little time to assess and make a game plan

“So many women come in with ideas that they’ve gotten from their friends and neighbors instead of medical professionals. They’ve already decided that they’re dying or that they need a double mastectomy. As a breast surgeon, it can be very hard to unwind that thinking. Is it important to get into someone quickly? Yes. But breast cancer is not an emergency. A difference of one or two days – even a week – is not going to make a difference with your treatment. In the age of quick information that we live in, while it’s possible to find information easily, it’s not necessarily helpful.”  Dr. Boyce Ley gave this advice: “Get the facts. Figure out your options. And then come up with a game plan that’s best for YOU.”

Dr. Boyce Ley is accepting new patients!
She is located at TMC One, 2424 N. Wyatt Drive #100, on the TMC campus.
Call (520) 324-BRST (2778) to make an appointment.

To schedule a mammogram, call (520) 324-2075. For more information about our free mammogram program for uninsured women, call the TMC for Women Breast Center at
(520) 324-1286 to review qualifications and schedule an appointment.

Screening and mammography myths – what’s your “normal?”

BDP36471We are continuing our weekly blog series with Dr. Michele Boyce Ley, TMC One’s new board-certified breast oncology surgeon and medical director of TMC’s Breast Health Program. Last week she shared with us highly valuable information about how to figure out if you’re really at high risk for breast cancer or not.

This week we’re focusing on how to sort out truths vs. myths when it comes to screening and mammography.

As women, we’re told to do our self-breast exam “when we pay our rent.” Or “on the same day every month as our birthday.” There are even apps to remind you. Most of us know we should do them. But the reality is, we don’t.

Are self-exams encouraged? And should you really be doing them? “Absolutely,” said Dr. Boyce Ley. “We want women to become really self-aware when it comes to their breast health. We want them to do monthly self-exams so that they become familiar with what their normal is. If they do regular checks and know what their breasts feel like, it’s easier to discover when something feels out of the ordinary. If you’re aware of it, you can monitor it and get in to see a breast specialist if necessary. When it comes to self-exams, it’s best to do it the first week after your menstrual cycle.”

Dr. Michele Boyce Ley Board-Certified, Breast Surgical Oncology Medical Director, TMC Breast Health Program

Dr. Boyce Ley explained that there is chatter in the medical world that monthly self-exams may cause unnecessary imaging and biopsies. One of the many challenges, she explained, is that while there are a lot of risk factors we know about, there are also a lot of risk factors we don’t know about. It can be difficult to definitively decide that a 35-year-old, for example, should have a mammogram. “That’s when it’s appropriate for that patient to see a breast specialist,” she said. “If you’ve tried to figure out if you’re considered high risk or not, and you’re still unsure, or if you just need guidance to sort it all out, have a breast specialist help you,” she said. If a woman is identified as high risk, then imaging starts earlier.

What about the risk of being exposed to so much radiation during a mammogram?

It may be recommended that younger people who are identified as high risk get mammograms every other year instead of annually at first. Or perhaps your doctor wants to combine a mammogram with an MRI. “Generally, radiation risks aren’t any higher than they were with regular film screen mammograms from 15 years ago,” said Dr. Boyce Ley. “MRI is a test without any radiation.”

There are 2D and 3D mammograms. How do I figure out which kind I need?

Film screen mammography is a thing of the past. These days, all mammography is done digitally. A 2D, or standard mammogram, captures all of the layers of the breast tissue stacked on top of each other. During a 3D mammogram, the x-ray camera rotates around the breast, getting a picture of multiple layers of the breast. Those layers can then be separated out for an even more precise view. For a majority of patients, standard digital mammography is still very good. Doctors have found, however, that for all patients, especially those with dense breasts, 3D mammography allows them to do fewer call backs. That means that there is a smaller chance that you’d have to be called back in for a follow-up mammogram or ultrasound. “The detection rate for cancer is higher with 3D mammography, as it allows us to find more small cancers,” explained Dr. Boyce Ley. “The downside is it can cost more.”

At TMC for Women’s Breast Center, both 2D and 3D mammography is performed. If you’re considering a 3D mammogram, be sure to check with your insurance first to see what it covers.

I have breast implants. Do I have to do anything differently?

No. The screening recommendations are the same. Dr. Boyce Ley said that implants can distort the breast tissue. In some cases, implants can make it easier to find a lump by feeling the breast tissue during a monthly self-exam. On the flipside, in some cases, it may make it harder to find a lump by imaging since the breast tissue is being pushed around by the implant. It can be difficult to visualize all the breast tissue since the implant often distorts it.

Does where I get screened matter?

Yes, according to Dr. Boyce Ley. Before you schedule your mammogram, do your research. Ask if your scan is going to be reviewed by a breast imaging specialist or radiologist with a specific focus who is able to give you an accurate interpretation. “You want to have your breast imaging read by someone who almost exclusively does mammographic imaging,” said Dr. Boyce Ley. “There are so many changes in technology and what we learn about the breast. It’s important to have someone who is highly experienced.”

Dr. Boyce Ley recommends asking a few questions when you call to schedule your appointment. Ask things like, “Can you tell me about your radiologist? Can I look them up online? Are they fellowship trained in breast imaging or are they a general radiologist? What percentage of their time do they read mammograms?”

At TMC for Women’s Breast Center, all of our radiologists are trained as general radiologists and then receive specialized training in breast imaging. Additionally, our lead radiologist, Dr. Matthew Bell, as well as Dr. Shayna Klein are both fellowship trained in breast imaging. All of our radiologists must keep their training current, so you can be confident that if you get a mammogram at TMC for Women’s, it’s being read by clinicians who are specially trained in reading mammograms.

Dr. Boyce Ley is accepting new patients!
She is located at TMC One, 2424 N. Wyatt Dr. #100, on the TMC campus.
Call (520) 324-BRST (2778) to make an appointment.

To schedule a mammogram, call (520) 324-2075.

Spread the word about screening mammograms and the FREE screening mammograms available to uninsured women with our latest photo contest.

PhotoContestBFF

Thinking pink for October and assessing your breast cancer risk

October is recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness month, and with so much information readily available under the “pink cloud,” we agree with you that sometimes it all can be overwhelming. So your grandma and your aunt had breast cancer – but your mom didn’t. Are you considered high breast cancer risk or not? What is the magic age for a mammogram these days – is it still 40? What’s this I hear about starting at age 35? And with all the attention about Angelina Jolie’s recent double mastectomy, is that really the only way to ensure that you never fall victim to this devastating disease? With an overload of information available at your fingertips about breast cancer, what’s the best way to dissect it all?

We sat down with TMC One’s new breast oncology surgeon Dr. Michele Boyce Ley. She’s a board-certified breast cancer surgeon and medical director of TMC’s Breast Health Program. Dr. Boyce Ley brings high-level, compassionate specialty care to TMC’s well established and respected program. We asked her to break down the most important things you should know about breast cancer and we’re going to share her thoughts in a new post each week throughout the month of October.

First up: that high-risk question.

As women, we are all at risk of getting breast cancer. Yes, men are also at risk. But simply being a woman is the number one risk factor. Others include:

∙ getting older
∙ family history
∙ not having children or having children after age 35
∙ receiving hormone replacement therapy
∙ obesity
∙ lack of exercise
∙ more than four alcoholic drinks a week

Let’s focus on that family history for a bit. Dr. Boyce Ley explains the key here is if multiple people from multiple generations in your family have been diagnosed, then you’re considered high-risk. “If your aunt had breast cancer when she was 65, for example, it’s probably not as important as if your mom had breast cancer at age 45,” she said.

Additionally, there are some easy-to-use scoring methods online to help you figure out if you’re high-risk or not. Dr. Boyce Ley is a fan of the bright pink website that offers a user-friendly tool. TheNational Cancer Institute also offers an online assessment. Still not sure? It’s best to get established with a breast specialist to assess your risk and what to do about it. A breast specialist can also help you figure out your breast density which oftentimes can be another risk factor.

Genetic testing is also an option, but proceed with caution. It’s not for everybody, and there are lots of caveats to it. Dr. Boyce Ley says it really needs to be done by a breast health specialist. Testing used to be limited to just testing for the BRCA 1 and 2 genes. Now there are numerous companies which offer genetic testing for up to 25 different markers. Certainly good information to have, but oftentimes it turns into a case of “We have this info. Now what do we do with it?”

While these mutations have been identified, it takes a highly trained team of clinicians to know how to interpret the results. Genetic testing can make a big difference in the treatment planning but it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. “The testing can be helpful, but it’s not helpful in the same way for every person,” said Dr. Boyce Ley.

“I always tell my patients who want to pursue genetic testing this: Let’s think this through. If you get the testing done, and you get these results, what are you going to do about it? Your motivation might be to protect yourself or simply to help your children figure out their risk.”

Dr. Boyce Ley warns, however, that testing can have implications for an entire family. “Sometimes there is guilt associated with it if people realize they have passed this gene on to their kids. This isn’t like getting a blood test and finding out you have high cholesterol. It’s a bit more complex than that,” she said. That’s why it’s important to sit down and talk with an expert. Insurance coverage of genetic testing has gotten measurably better with the exception of Medicare, which is more restrictive in covering the cost.

Bottom line: Have a plan before you get genetic testing done.

Doctors continue to develop a better understanding about what characteristics constitute a high-risk patient, and there are an assortment of new drug therapies in the pipeline that work to reduce a patient’s risk. “Just because you’re identified as high-risk doesn’t necessarily mean you need an invasive procedure,” Dr. Boyce Ley said.

Something super simple you can do that isn’t talked about much? Exercise and manage your weight. “It’s been shown over and over again that maintaining a healthy weight and exercising more than four times a week reduces the risk of breast cancer. Those are things you don’t need to see a doctor for. They’re not easy, but they’re free!” she said.

Dr. Boyce Ley is located at TMC One, 2424 N. Wyatt Dr. #100, on the TMC campus.
Call (520) 324-BRST (2778) to make an appointment

TMC One welcomes breast oncology surgeon Dr. Michele Boyce Ley to guide prevention and treatment

Dr. Michele Boyce Ley Board-Certified, Breast Surgical Oncology Medical Director, TMC Breast Health Program

TMC One is expanding the scope of services available to you. We are thrilled to welcome Michele Boyce Ley, M.D., a board-certified breast cancer surgeon and medical director of TMC’s Breast Health Program. Dr. Boyce Ley brings high-level, compassionate specialty care to our well established and respected program. She is also fluent in Spanish.

Dr. Boyce Ley shares some insight into why she chose this field, what she thinks is the biggest misconception about breast cancer and how a string of profound experiences within her own family impacted how she treats each and every patient.

What is your background?

I was raised in Northern California and have lived in Tucson since 2000. I graduated from Northwestern University with a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology. I completed medical school at St. Louis University and moved to Tucson for my general surgery residency at the University of Arizona.

I completed a fellowship in breast surgical oncology at the University of California San Francisco, Carol Frank Buck Breast Care Center in 2006 before establishing a breast surgical oncology practice in Tucson. Most recently, I was the director of breast surgery at the University of Arizona and associate professor of surgery.

What inspired you to go into breast surgical oncology?

I was always interested in the biology of cancer. It is so incredibly complex on a cellular and molecular level. Additionally, when you add in the human element – that the disease is happening in a person who has a set of values, beliefs and an individual health status, it adds another layer of complexity. It is very rewarding to take all of these issues into account when helping a patient choose a therapeutic pathway.

How do you help primary care physicians care for their patients with breast cancer?

I like to communicate with referring physicians to inform them of what their patients’ treatment options are. A lot of the information I pass on is educational including information about new evaluation and treatment options as well as updates on recent research.

We hear a lot about breast cancer in the media. What do you think is the biggest misconception about it?

Everyone who is diagnosed with breast cancer, even if it is just pre-cancerous cells, worries that she will die from breast cancer. While there are about 45,000 deaths a year from breast cancer, the majority of patients with breast cancer have a 85-90 percent of a 10-year survival. This means that 10 years after diagnosis, 85-90 percent of these patients are still alive. There are certainly people who do not survive their disease, but these are primarily people in whom the breast cancer was diagnosed late, not properly treated or their particular type of cancer is extremely aggressive.

If a patient has not been diagnosed with breast cancer, but has it in her family history, do you recommend she get established with a specialist like yourself for regular checks/preventative care?

There is great interest in breast health to know your risk. The best way to assess your risk is to meet with a breast specialist to accurately take a history, estimate risk and develop a prevention plan. This plan usually includes regular breast exams, imaging and lifestyle modifications. Sometimes a prevention plan includes risk-reducing surgery or medications.

You’ve lived in Tucson for 15 years. Is there anything in regards to breast health/breast cancer prevention that you’ve found is unique in this part of the country?

One of my goals in returning to practice after my fellowship at UCSF was to raise the level of breast cancer care in Southern Arizona. This has certainly happened as immediate breast reconstruction and nipple-sparing mastectomies have become more commonplace. I hope that we continue to improve our access to routine breast care, breast health education and wellness education.

What interests you outside of work?

I love to cook up healthy meals and I like baking desserts – especially sugar-free ones! I have recently adopted a low-carbohydrate lifestyle that has been both a challenge and a reward. I have two children, Logan, 9, and Lauren, 4, who are bright and energetic. We try to spend time together when we’re not at school and work. My husband takes us camping and as a family, we enjoy adventuring in our time off!  It’s good for all of us to be outside and be unplugged. My other pastime is reading. My son and I have challenged each other to read 40 books this year. He’s ahead of me already! We are all looking forward to skiing this winter, as my daughter is ready to take lessons so that we can all hit the slopes together!

What has been your most valuable life experience that has impacted your medical career?

A few years ago, several of my family members were diagnosed with cancer in the same year. My father was diagnosed with leukemia and died after three years of incredibly difficult treatment. My aunt had a recurrence of her breast cancer and eventually passed away from it. Her daughter had a rare form of sarcoma and fortunately is doing well today. All three of my loved ones underwent intensive treatments over a varied amount of time. This was challenging for our family as we had family members who needed support in different parts of the country.

My father and my aunt were relatively young when they died at ages 64 and 62. My family and I felt robbed of the time we should have had with them and were saddened at the suffering they had to endure. Both my father and my aunt accepted hospice care, which was so good for them and our family. My father and my aunt did not want their lives to be defined by their cancer diagnoses. They wanted to live and be involved in the lives of their children and grandchildren. They saw beauty in every day they were given.

These experiences have changed the way I look at my life as well as how I see my patient’s lives. I know that not every treatment is necessary. I know that many treatments may have little benefit and incur risk of long-term effects. I also work to be more understanding of the whole picture of a patient’s life when faced with disease. They have families and pressures outside of their diagnosis that form their response to the illness. From a family perspective, it’s so wonderful to have a physician who “gets” you and sees you as a human – not just as a diagnosis.

How do you approach your relationship with your patients?

Patients are people with an illness, and in the case of breast cancer, these people don’t usually feel ill. I try to put my patients at ease initially to let them know that they will be cured with a little hard work. I often have to deliver news that is disappointing or surprising, so I try to be frank, yet gentle. I really enjoy getting to know my patients and their families. Regardless of our backgrounds, we are all people with feelings and personal challenges and triumphs.  I strive to make their experience of the breast cancer process a positive, triumphant part of their life.

Dr. Boyce Ley is accepting new patients! She is located at TMC One, 2424 N. Wyatt Dr. #100, on the TMC campus. Call (520) 324-BRST (2778) to make an appointment.

19 lives saved, and counting: Cord Blood Awareness Month draws attention to benefits of Arizona Public Cord Blood Program

proclamation cord blood awareness month ArizonaArizona Governor Doug Ducey has signed a proclamation making the month of July Cord Blood Awareness Month. The proclamation generates attention about stem-cell-rich umbilical cord blood and how the Arizona Public Cord Blood Program, which Tucson Medical Center is a part of, is saving lives.

Each year, thousands of patients in the United States are diagnosed with a blood cancer or other life-threatening disease. Umbilical cord blood is a prime source of blood stem cells and can be a precious resource to a patient in need of a stem-cell transplant, since the cells can renew themselves and grow into mature blood cells. The advancement has proven to cure and treat as many as 80 diseases. The blood can be collected, stored and made available for transplant to children and adults with life-threatening diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma.

TMC is one of four hospitals in the state, and the only hospital in Southern Arizona, to offer this option to expectant parents as part of this program. The program also partners with the Tucson-based, nonprofit Save the Cord Foundation, which provides education. The Arizona Public Cord Blood Program is funded by the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission. There is no cost to families who choose to publicly donate their baby’s cord blood through this program.

“This proclamation highlights a special program that provides a lifeline to patients in need,” the governor said. “The generous gift of cord blood increases the odds of survival for cancer patients and gives researchers a chance to find a cure for genetic disease.”

Collecting the blood does not hurt the mother or the baby or change a woman’s labor or delivery. “This is a way for parents to give the gift of health to others in need,” said TMC Cord Blood Coordinator Kristen Wilt. “It’s one of the easiest ways to make a positive impact on the lives of others.”

One Arizona mom calls the decision to publicly donate a baby’s cord blood, “The best gift a mother can give another mother.”

Since the program’s inception in 2011, 19 cords have been selected for transplant in Arizona, meaning 19 lives have been saved. Since TMC for Women signed on to the program in October 2014, roughly 600 units of cord blood have been collected.

For more information about how to donate your newborn’s cord blood at TMC, please click here.

“Public banking is about giving and living in hope.” Why an expectant mom is especially thrilled about TMC’s new cord blood donation program

Hope & Life - Public Cord Blood Banking

Public Cord Blood Banking – Bringing hope & life

Long before she got pregnant, expectant mom Jennifer Widdows firmly believed in donating any biological products that she could. Blood, platelets – you name it. “The folks at the blood and platelet donation centers get very excited when I come in. I’m what they consider an ‘ideal donor’ since I have a high platelet count, relatively lower iron levels, and I haven’t been exposed to a virus that most of the population gets during childhood,” she said. “Some of my platelets go directly to sick infants and leukemia patients. It’s an enormous gift I can give, and it only takes two hours of my day.”
So when she discovered the Be The Match registry was looking for bone marrow donors, naturally, she was intrigued. When she got pregnant with her first child and started expanding her research on how she could continue to give back, she remembered that one way a person could contribute to the Be The Match registry is by donating her newborn’s umbilical cord blood. “By the time I started looking into this option, I had already missed the window of opportunity. I was too far along in my pregnancy to do what was required to donate,” she explained.

So, she chalked it up as a lesson learned.

Widdows and her husband considered privately banking their baby’s cord blood, but they decided against it since their family didn’t have any risk factors that cord blood may help. “I’ve also learned that oftentimes, people find better matches with people who are outside of their immediate family, depending on the disease. We decided that for our next child, publically donating their cord blood would be the best thing to do,” she said. “Private banking is more about the fear of what could happen versus public banking which is about giving and living in hope.”

Now almost 2, Ivan is preparing to become a big brother. Widdows is 36 weeks pregnant, and waiting until delivery to discover if she’ll have another boy in her house or welcome a little girl. Determined not to make the same mistake she did with her first child, her research about how to publically donate started early in her pregnancy. “I filled out a form on a website and met the criteria. They contacted a public cord blood bank in North Carolina, and the bank contacted me,” she explained.

And then, she got a lengthy to-do list.

So did her physician, Dr. John Graziano with Crossroads OB/GYN.

Jennifer Widdows with Dr. John Graziano

Jennifer Widdows with Dr. John Graziano

Widdows showed up at her next appointment with a big stack of paperwork for him to fill out in order for her to donate. Oh – and by the way, he also had to complete online training. A tall task for any busy physician.

The bank had warned her – oftentimes, this was the toughest part of the whole process.

And – after she gets all that done, Dr. Graziano has to actually deliver her. If it’s another doctor who hasn’t completed the necessary training, Widdows won’t be able to donate.

Then, with paperwork in hand, Widdows received some welcome news that – in mere seconds – made her life easier. “He told me that TMC was preparing to launch a public donation program. I couldn’t believe it! All of these things that I was going to have to do. All of these things that my husband and my doula were going to have to do – suddenly, we didn’t have to do all that anymore. Donating this baby’s cord blood was going to be so easy,” said Widdows.

“I had done the paperwork and the training for other patients before, so I was happy to do it for Jennifer, but TMC’s program was about to start,” said Dr. Graziano. “Most expectant moms don’t even think about cord blood until they’re in labor. When we tell them that they now have the option to publically donate it, probably 80 percent are happy to participate. The fact that Jennifer thought about it, educated herself and did her research early in her pregnancy certainly says a lot about her character.”

Ivan shares he has a sibling on the way

Big brother to be Ivan shares that baby is on the way

Widdows connected with Kristen Wilt, TMC’s cord blood coordinator , who explained that TMC’s program doesn’t require expectant mothers to do anything ahead of their delivery. In fact, they can agree to participate in the program when they arrive at TMC in labor. TMC is proud to be the only hospital in Southern Arizona that’s part of the Arizona Public Cord Blood Program , administered by the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission .

So for now, that’s the plan as Widdows enters the home stretch of her second pregnancy. But she is thinking even further beyond that. “I can’t wait to teach my children about the easy ways people can make a difference for others. I believe that if we have these gifts, and just about everybody has the ability to donate something, why not help others in need?”

For more information about the program, please click here , or contact Kristen Wilt at (520) 324-6210 or Kristen.Wilt@tmcaz.com.
To learn more about the importance of cord blood donation, visit SavetheCordFoundation.org.

Baby Jayden: Potential lifesaver just by being born

Save a life, save the cord, #CordbloodBefore Sept. 30, the only thing expectant mom Celina Martinez knew about umbilical cord blood was that it was expensive to privately bank it – too expensive. “I knew I couldn’t afford it, so I didn’t think much about it,” she said.

When Martinez arrived at TMC in labor and settled into her delivery room, in walked cord blood consenter Ali Baker. “She told me that my son’s cord blood can help someone in need, and that if my son ever needed it, he could have it back if it was still available. So I figured why not? Otherwise, it was going to end up in the garbage,” said Martinez.

Baby Jayden Antonio Martinez was born at 4:24 pm, 7 pounds, 3 ounces. After he was delivered, his umbilical cord was clamped and cut. The remaining blood was drained out of it. Martinez didn’t notice a thing. “I was too busy looking at the baby to even realize they were collecting it. It didn’t hurt me or my baby,” she said.

Jayden is one of the first TMC babies to participate in the hospital’s new public donation program, the only hospital in Southern Arizona that’s part of the Arizona Public Cord Blood Program, administered by the Arizona Biomedical Research Commission . “I think it’s great that TMC has this program. If your baby’s blood can help someone in need instead of being thrown away, then why not participate?” said Martinez.

Proud grandma Sandra Martinez teared up while holding her new grandson, just thinking of the possibilities. “It’s wonderful to know that he may be able to help out someone else who is sick and may not have much time left to live. None of us know what’s going to happen to our children or grandchildren down the line. It’s comforting to know that if his blood makes it to the national registry and he needs it in the future, he can have it back if it’s available,” she said.

New mom Celina smiles at the thought of telling baby Jayden about his birthday. “When my son gets older, I can’t wait to tell him – hey, you may have saved a life just by being born.”

To learn more about the importance of cord blood donation, please visit SavetheCordFoundation.org.