Press Releases 

Care Around the Corner: Holly's Story of Battling Breast Cancer
Date: 5/30/2013
Robbinsville Resident Learns Great Breast Cancer Care Doesn’t Need to be Inconvenient

When it comes to her health, Holly Riehl of Robbinsville, likes to play it safe. She sees the right doctors at the right intervals, exercises regularly and pays attention when her body is telling her something.


So when Holly discovered a small lump high on the center of her chest, she was certain it was a cyst. But to be safe, she mentioned it to her physician — and to be safe, her physician sent her to get it tested.

An Unexpected Diagnosis

“When the doctor said it was cancer I was shocked. I had no weight loss. No energy loss. I just thought if it was cancer, I’d have noticed some other symptoms,” she recalls.


Holly had stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common form of breast cancer. Her case is not uncommon as breast cancer awareness has improved over the past couple of decades and women have taken steps to get areas of concern checked out.


The goal of breast examinations is not just to detect breast cancer, but to do it early enough to improve survival — before symptoms set in or it metastasizes.


“The most important contributions to the improvement of survival for breast cancer are mammograms and targeted treatment,” explains Laurie Kirstein, MD, board certified surgeon and fellowship trained breast surgeon.


“We have developed treatments that can target the specific cancer cells to kill and eradicate them, like a smart bomb.  By catching it early and have more effective treatments, we are making headway in the fight against this disease,” she adds.


‘Only Eight Minutes Away’

After Holly had an unpleasant experience with another cancer treatment center, she and her sister began to look into other options for cancer care. It wasn’t until she discovered the Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick that Holly felt comfortable she was in the best hands. There, Holly’s oncologist referred her for breast surgery with Laurie Kirstein, MD, fellowship-trained breast surgeon.


When she met with Dr. Kirstein, Holly learned that she was right around the corner from another Cancer Institute of New Jersey site at RWJ Hamilton (CINJ Hamilton), and Dr. Kirstein performed surgeries at the hospital several times a month.


“It was so nice to know I wouldn’t have to travel far for my care,” explains Holly. “My surgeries, radiation and follow-up care has all been at CINJ in Hamilton — only eight minutes away from my house.”


According to Dr. Kirstein, one of the leading reasons women in this country do not have a lumpectomy with radiation for the treatment of their breast cancer is inconvenience. “These patients go for treatments every day for 6 to 7 weeks. We are so lucky to have access to all of the necessary services – surgery, medical oncology and radiation – under one roof at CINJ Hamilton.,” says Dr. Kirstein.


All Clear

Although her multiple surgeries and weeks of treatment were tough to get through, Holly says the positive aspects of the experience were convenience of her care, as well as the communication between the many members of her care team.


“It was so great that they are all linked — my oncologist, the surgeon, the nursing staff, the navigator — everyone communicates with one another. And even now, I don’t have to go to three different places,” Holly explains.


Dr. Kirstein agrees about the importance of communication, especially because the care team is composed of many specialties.


“Breast cancer is treated with surgery, radiation, hormones, chemotherapy and antibodies. The integration of services across the different medical and surgical fields ensures patients are getting the exact treatment they need, which allows for the best outcome and greatest chance of survival,” she says.


Fighting the Family Tree

Advances in genetic research place us in a time when a simple genetic test can help a person determine his or her chances of developing certain types of cancer down the road. For some, these tests have helped them to make choices to reduce their chances of developing cancer exponentially.


Should You Consider Genetic Testing?

The HOPE Program at RWJ Hamilton is designed for anyone concerned about hereditary cancer risk. If you answer yes to one or more of the following questions, we can help. 


  • Do you have relatives diagnosed with cancer at an age younger than 50?
  • Do you have multiple relatives with the same type of cancer, or related cancers such as breast and ovarian cancers or colon and endometrial cancers?
  • Are there at least two generations affected with cancer and/or pre-cancerous lesions?
  • Do you have a relative with a rare or hereditary cancer such as pancreatic cancer or ovarian cancer?
  • Is there a personal history of several different types of cancer?


To learn about your risk or to schedule an appointment, call 609.584.2836.