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EMPATHY~SYMPATHY Compassion

ANGIE GILLESPIE HELPS PATIENTS NAVIGATE BREAST CANCER DIAGNOSIS

No one wants an abnormal mammogram. Not only can it mean one may be facing the dreaded “C” word, but you feel like you are standing on the precipice of the unknown. 

But thanks to Angie Gillespie, a certified breast imaging navigator and market lead mammography technologist at Hilton Head Regional Healthcare, those diagnosed with breast cancer are not alone. 

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“I talk people off the ledge,” said Gillespie, a Bluffton resident who has worked for the health care system for 10 years. “I believe it’s important to show empathy, compassion and sympathy. If a person has an abnormal mammogram, or we have told them we have a high suspicion of a malignancy, there are so many variables. It’s so stressful. If I was in the same situation, I would hope I would have someone on my side.” 

Within 30 days of getting a mammogram, Gillespie’s office sends out a risk-assessment letter to patients to clearly explain their risk for developing breast cancer based on their exam, family history, age when they started their menstrual cycle and/or became post-menopausal, family history, BRCA (Breast Cancer Gene) positive and hormone replacement therapies. 

Gillespie oversees 10 technologists and four radiologists and works closely with Dr. Rochelle Ringer. The hospital’s main radiologist is Dr. Jason Snyder, who earned a fellowship in breast imagining at MUSC and is a trained breast cancer surgeon at the Breast Health Center. 

She also schedules Savi Scout localization, a procedure that targets the tumor in the breast to facilitate the lumpectomy. 

“I could go on and on about my duties,” said Gillespie, who also sees patients and performs as a diagnostic technologist every Wednesday because she “likes to stay involved with patient care,” as well as go the extra mile. 

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“As soon as I have to say biopsy to a patient, I give them my card with my work number and my personal cell for after-hours just in case they have issues or the spouse or family have questions,” Gillespie said. “I do not want anyone worrying themselves sick.” 

Gillespie noted the importance of other navigators in the medical field, such as the nurse navigator, imaging navigator, managing navigator and oncology navigator. 

“Different navigators do different things, but all are advocates for the patient,” she said. 

Studies have found that these navigators improve cancer outcomes by reducing barriers and facilitating timely access to cancer care, timeliness of treatment initiation, adherence to cancer treatment, and adherence to post-treatment surveillance mammography. 

The most important steps when it comes to breast cancer are prevention strategies. 

“Women need to be very vigilant about getting their mammogram and do monthly self-examinations. Early detection is key,” said Gillespie. 

Remembering a patient, Gillespie said: “We had a young lady with a strong family history of breast cancer who also had issues with her breasts, so we decided to watch closer. The MRI radiologist found two abnormal areas and did the biopsy. We detected the cancer early and she got a bilateral mastectomy. I still see the patient from time to time. She gives us lots of hugs and thanks us for being vigilant and saving her life.” 

OCTOBER BREAST CANCER AWARENESS MONTH

GILLESPIE’S ROLE INCLUDES:

GUIDANCE THROUGH SCREENING AND DIAGNOSTIC EXAMS: The Society of Breast Imaging recommends women age 40 and older annually get a mammogram screening. Women who have been diagnosed or have had a problem relating to the breast, such as a lump, nipple discharge, dimpling or pain, are guided through a necessary diagnostic exam, Gillespie said. 

OVERSEEING ALL PATIENTS IN ALL FACILITIES: “My main objective is that no one falls through the cracks. All patients should be told during their appointment, or get a phone call, or receive a letter with their results in a timely manner,” Gillespie said. 

EDUCATION AND OUTREACH IN THE COMMUNITY: “October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month so we give Hilton Head, Bluffton and the Lowcountry information about breast cancer and inform the community about the importance of a mammography.”