As one of the first women to work street patrol duty as a San Diego Police Department officer in the 1970s, Janet Chelberg-Burgess helped blaze new trails for females in local law enforcement. She’s now retired from the force, but today she continues to battle a dangerous, albeit different foe – breast cancer.
This October, the 35-year law enforcement veteran will finish her final phase of treatments for breast cancer at Scripps Radiation Therapy Center. This comes after being diagnosed in January and successfully completing targeted drug therapy, chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy at Scripps Health.
“As a former street cop, my friends and family told me I was the toughest woman they know, but I didn’t feel that way when I first started my treatments,” said Chelberg-Burgess, who was also the first female criminal investigator for the San Diego City Attorney’s office.
The San Diego native and San Carlos resident was diagnosed after a suspicious routine mammogram. A follow-up exam and biopsy revealed stage-2 breast cancer. Within 24 hours, she was surrounded by an integrated team of Scripps cancer care specialists, including medical oncologist Joan Kroener, MD; surgeon Pamela Kurtzhals, MD; and radiation oncologist Ray Lin, MD Together, they mapped out an individualized and comprehensive treatment plan.
Treatment included targeted therapy
Chelberg-Burgess’ biopsy revealed she was HER2-positive, meaning she has a gene that can cause breast cancer cells to grow at an accelerated rate. As the first step in her treatment, Dr. Kroener prescribed six rounds of chemotherapy in combination with a targeted drug called Herceptin, which blocks the HER2 gene’s receptors from receiving growth signals. Herceptin can also help patients by alerting their immune system to destroy breast cancer cells.
Finding solace in the surf
An avid boogie boarder who has been riding waves at La Jolla Shores since 1975, Chelberg-Burgess had a view of her favorite surf spot from the chemotherapy infusion clinic at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla. “Seeing the ocean and thinking about getting back in the water really helped me get through my treatments,” she said. Soon after finishing chemotherapy in June, she was back in the surfing lineup, paddling after waves – a passion she has pursued throughout her various treatments this year.
“I love everything about boogie boarding, it’s just you and the wave and the water,” she said. “You can forget all of your worries when you’re out in the ocean. It really kept me going, along with the support of my family, friends and Scripps doctors.”
Progressing through surgery and radiation
After chemotherapy and targeted therapy, the next step for Chelberg-Burgess was surgery. In the operating room, Dr. Kurtzhals quickly found that the tumor had virtually melted away. She took tissue from around the area where the tumor had originated, as well as five lymph nodes. Follow-up tests found Chelberg-Burgess to be clear of cancer.
The final step in her treatments involves external beam radiation therapy at the Scripps Radiation Therapy Center. According to Dr. Lin, the goal is to eradicate any possible microscopic remnants of the tumor.
An important message to share
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Chelberg-Burgess has an important message to share. “Women can’t back down on getting their mammograms,” she said. “My tumor was found during my yearly mammogram and I’m sure glad I didn’t delay my screening. I have encouraged many women to get themselves screened regularly, after hearing they have put things off because they heard it can be uncomfortable or are afraid of what the outcome might be.”
Celebrating with a Hawaiian vacation
Chelberg-Burgess had to postpone her leisure travel this year due to her treatments. But she is now planning a trip to Hawaii for the near future, the thought of which helped her get through treatments. She also plans to continue operating the children’s cooking school she founded several years ago, 4littlecooks.
Cancer care at Scripps Health
Scripps Health provides more breast cancer care than any other provider in San Diego County. Scripps is a nationally recognized leader in cancer therapy, providing treatments at its five hospital campuses, radiation therapy centers and various Scripps Clinic locations. Scripps cancer physicians and staff work collaboratively toward cancer prevention, early detection, coordinated treatment and community support services.
Scripps offers advanced treatment technologies at its various radiation therapy facilities, as well as the Scripps Proton Therapy Center, the San Diego Gamma Knife Center, and through its minimally invasive surgical program and CyberKnife stereotactic radiosurgery. Additional resources include specialized breast care centers, infusion clinics, nurse navigators, rehabilitation services, support groups and the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine.
In August, Scripps announced a partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center to create a comprehensive and clinically integrated cancer care program in San Diego. Work to establish the Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center is now under way, and the program will be developed during the coming months.
Learn more about Scripps Health, a nonprofit integrated health system in San Diego, Calif.