Sarah Sanders wasn’t shocked when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 41 in September 2015. In fact, she expected it.
That’s because Sanders has a strong family history of the disease on her father’s side. Her paternal grandmother died at age 35 from breast cancer, an aunt passed away at age 50, and another aunt was diagnosed in her 60s and successfully treated. This knowledge made all the difference in Sanders’ approach to her breast health.
“Call it whatever you believe in, but this was put on my heart at a very young age,” she said. “I sort of always knew this was coming for me, and I do not mean that in a negative way. I mean it in an ‘I need to be proactive’ way. Maybe it’s my grandmother – maybe she’s my guardian angel.”
One thing that made all the difference in her breast cancer care was her choice of board-certified medical oncologist, Wade Smith, M.D., who specializes in breast cancer treatment at City of Hope Newport Beach. After her tumor was removed, Dr. Smith performed cutting-edge genomic testing that determined chemotherapy wasn’t necessary. Sanders said that when Dr. Smith told her the news, it was the only time she cried.
“He represents everything City of Hope stands for,” Sanders says of Dr. Smith, Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research.
I am with the institution that’s going to have the most cutting-edge technology and advanced medical science. City of Hope is the place to be.” – Sarah Sanders
City of Hope Newport Beach is home to many of the nation’s leading clinician scientists who are transforming laboratory breakthroughs into treatments to offer the best hope for patients. Recognizing that each cancer is unique, City of Hope Newport Beach assembled a roster of outstanding researchers and physicians with highly focused knowledge. For breast cancer patients, that includes breast surgical oncologist Hang T. Dang, D.O., and nurse practitioner Linda Buck, herself a breast cancer survivor.
Sanders says she appreciates the environment of City of Hope Newport Beach as well as the staff, whom she describes as the “best in the field.” Sanders now lives in Indian Wells with her boyfriend, Curtis, and their 14-year-old dog, Bridget, but says she can’t imagine receiving care anywhere other than City of Hope.
Sanders is approaching the five-year mark in her cancer journey, and she recognizes how important it is that her tumor was discovered early. Sanders’ family history caught the attention of her OB/GYN, who referred her for genetic and other testing. Sanders learned that she had the ATM mutation that increased her cancer risk. Then an MRI revealed a small tumor in its early stages, close to her armpit, that may not have been caught with a traditional mammogram. Because of the gene mutation and her family history, Sanders chose to have a double mastectomy.
Recuperating from the procedure was challenging. For Sanders, the most “life-changing aspect” of breast cancer was letting someone else take care of her – specifically, her mom, Teri, who basically moved into Sanders’ home to help her.
“I reconnected with her in a massive way,” Sanders said. “We still laugh when we talk about her trying to give me a shower. But she would wash my hair, and we would just laugh.”
Between the mastectomy, reconstructive surgery, and a hysterectomy, Sanders had six surgeries within one year. During this time, she was referred to Jeffrey Weitzel, M.D., a City of Hope clinical geneticist who studies the ATM mutation and took her care “to a level no one else can match.”
“First, it made me aware of other cancer risks I have because of the mutation,” Sanders said. “More important is the peace of mind, knowing my care is with the ‘A’ team. I am with the institution that’s going to have the most cutting-edge technology and advanced medical science. City of Hope is the place to be.”
Sanders urges people – especially those with a family history of breast cancer – to take advantage of City of Hope’s personalized and highly specialized care.
“There is a massive difference when you are being monitored by a compassionate, technologically advanced cancer center like City of Hope and detecting cancer early,” Sanders said. “That’s my battle cry.”