There are moments that change your life forever, where the earth seems to shift, leaving you trying to make sense of it all. One of those moments happened to Lori Sumner on May 4, 2017 — the day she learned she had breast cancer.
"The only thing I remember the radiologist saying is that things didn't go as we had hoped and that my biopsy was positive," Sumner recalled. "In those first couple of days I couldn't even look at the pathology report, I was in such a state of shock over it."
As a wife, a mother of three and a physician assistant, Sumner was used to being a caretaker as well as a healthcare provider. Then she discovered two lumps during a morning workout, leading to a mammogram, two ultrasounds and ultimately, a biopsy. On the day of her diagnosis, she shifted to cancer patient, a role she says has given her new insight into how she takes care of others.
Facing the Diagnosis
Sumner has practiced medicine for more than 20 years and joined Pellegrino Family Medicine in Mooresville in 2016. Her positive attitude has made an impression on her colleagues, including Yvette Pellegrino, MD.
"Lori is extremely hard working and dedicated to her patients," said Dr. Pellegrino. "She has so much positive energy, she smiles all day!"
Pellegrino was one of the first people Sumner and her husband called on the day she was diagnosed, and they eventually ended up together in Sumner's office. Pellegrino and Jodi Stutts, MD, who also works with Sumner in the Iredell Physician Network, immediately got to work. They made phone calls, helped Sumner find a breast surgeon and helped her figure out her next steps.
"As a provider we often take control to comfort and guide our patients through an illness," said Pellegrino. "When you are the one facing the illness, it's easy to confuse your medical knowledge with your emotions as a patient. I didn't want Lori to navigate the diagnosis as if she were her own provider. I jumped in just like she does every day when she cares for her patients."
After more testing and conversations with her medical team, Sumner underwent a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction in June. That surgery revealed the cancer was more advanced than previously thought, stage two instead of stage one. Doctors recommended chemotherapy and radiation. The news hit Sumner hard.
"I could barely speak, it was hard to wrap my head around it," said Sumner.
She faced months of recovery and then harsh treatments help keep the cancer from coming back. Her close-knit family was by her side through it all and her friends rallied around her. She started a blog, writing about everything from her medical prognosis to how she and her husband gave their youngest son his favorite breakfast on chemo days, because staying cancer free was something to celebrate.
"Breast cancer has been disruptive. Just to be home and not doing what you normally do and to be in the role of a patient, it's not fun. But to have the support of the people I love, that means the world to me."
A New Perspective
Nowadays, Sumner's life is starting to look a little more familiar, like her life before breast
cancer. Her final chemo appointment is set for this month. She returned to the job she loves three months after surgery, bringing a new perspective to the practice.
"I have always strived to provide compassionate personalized care to my patients," Sumner said. "I like my patients to be involved in the decision making for their care. Now, having experienced medicine from a patient perspective, I understand better how vulnerable you can feel as a patient and the importance of having complete trust in your healthcare providers."
She also understands the importance of having a strong support system, like the more than 70
friends and family who walked with Team Sumner this year during the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Charlotte.
"I am so blessed with an amazing group of family and friends," said Sumner. Living through this long emotional treatment and being able to say that my cancer is gone and there is a way I can prevent it from coming back gives me so much hope."