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Pittsgrove woman stresses importance of regular mammograms and primary care, but also appreciates “a kind word”

Oct 26, 2023
Becky and her daughter Toni
Becky and her daughter Toni

When Rebecca Baker got the card from Inspira reminding her that she had a mammogram appointment coming up in 2022, it motivated her to do a breast self-exam. When, to her surprise, she found what she believed was a lump, she didn’t hesitate.

“I called Dr. Stiefel, my primary care doctor, and he told me to come in that same day,” Rebecca, 51, said.

Gregory Stiefel, D.O., is a family medicine physician at Inspira Medical Group. His responsiveness was not a surprise to Rebecca.

“Dr. Stiefel remembers you, even if you see him just once a year for a checkup,” Rebecca said. “My husband, Michael, thinks he’s great and one of my daughters goes to him too. He talks to you, not at you. He listens to us and he laughs with us, because sometimes we’re a hot mess! We live on a farm, and our life revolves around our animals. He asks about our cows and pigs. I always feel like he is keeping an eye on us. His office staff is terrific too.”

“When he also felt the lump, he sent me immediately for a mammogram,” Rebecca said.

When that study showed a mass, she was referred to Nandini Kulkarni, M.D., medical director of Surgical Oncology for Inspira Health, for a biopsy. A few days later, the test confirmed a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Rebecca says the positive attitude and attention to detail she had always experienced at Inspira became more important to her than ever before.

“Dr. Kulkarni got me in to see her quickly. And then she looked me straight in the eye and told me that she and I were going to get through this together,” Rebecca said. “She was the best!”

Rebecca’s nearly year-long treatment plan would eventually include chemotherapy, surgery and radiation treatments. She said that through her many appointments, everyone, including doctors, nurses, technologists and support staff, treated her the same way.

“I like to think of myself as a warrior,” Rebecca said. “I only cried two times after I found out I had cancer, and that was mostly about wanting to be around for my daughters, Taylor and Toni. Everyone on my care team was compassionate, outgoing and caring.”

Rebecca said that Lauren Baldwin, the breast cancer nurse navigator, was also “a huge help.” Nurse navigators guide patients through their treatment journey. They help them understand what to expect, schedule appointments, answer questions and, sometimes, just listen.

“I could call her when I had questions or was a little confused about something,” she said. “She told me, ‘I’ll make sure you’re good’. She answered the phone every time I called.”

When Rebecca became a little claustrophobic about an MRI study she was about to undergo, she said Lauren made sure she was as comfortable as possible. She said the technician in charge asked her about her children and talked basketball with her to take her mind off it.

“I could feel my heart pounding. Sometimes just talking to me helps. But that kind of interaction takes people who care,” Rebecca said.

That level of caring, Rebecca says, continued throughout her chemotherapy and radiation treatments as well.

Amy Widger, R.T., was one of Rebecca’s radiation therapists at the Frank and Edith Scarpa Regional Cancer Pavilion at Inspira Medical Center Vineland.

“People sometimes say I’m ‘bubbly’,” Rebecca said. “I tell them if they think I’m upbeat, they should meet Amy! She remembered me every time. She’d pop in to check on me even on days when she wasn’t taking care of me. She’d ask me how the piggies were doing on the farm.”

Becky and her family and prize winning pigs
Becky and her Family at the Maryland State Fair with their Champion Hereford pair of Gilts.

Rebecca said that when her insurance company had questions, her radiation oncologist, Joseph Fanelle, M.D., made sure she got what she needed.

“Dr. Fanelle not only talked with me and joked with me to put me at ease, but he fought for me to make sure I got all the treatments I needed,” she said.

Omar Al Ustwani, M.D., is Rebecca’s medical oncologist, who she continues to see.

“I just love him too,” Rebecca said. “He explains everything to me and writes things down if I need to remember them. He greets me and takes my hand every time I see him. He keeps telling me, ‘You’re doing good!’”

“I couldn’t find a negative thing to say the entire time I was being treated.”

“We live two miles from Inspira in Elmer,” she said. “We go to Inspira for everything. We don’t have to fill out paperwork every time. They keep up on our prescriptions. We don’t have to remember everything ourselves! And I don’t know if there are any better doctors out there anywhere.”

Topics: Cancer Care