Chelsea Beaumonte had just started her “dream job” as a flight attendant when she discovered the lump in her breast.
“My heart sank. You know in the bottom of your stomach that something is wrong,” she recalls.
Her doctor said that, at 32, she was too young for breast cancer, and she had no family history of the disease. But her ultrasound, mammogram and biopsy showed otherwise: Chelsea had stage 3 breast cancer.
“When you get the call that you have cancer, you think, ‘this can’t be true,’” Chelsea says. “I wanted to live my life. I want to have a family and get married. I didn’t want any of that taken away from me.”
Genetic testing found that Chelsea had the BRCA2 gene mutation, which significantly increases the risk of breast cancer. Other family members tested positive as well.
The diagnosis came as a huge shock, but Chelsea went right into fight mode — with Scripps supporting her every step of the way.
“Working with Scripps, you have this massive team of people rallying for you. You really feel like you have the best care,” Chelsea says. “Scripps is at the forefront of anything that’s out there.”
Chelsea’s treatment began with chemotherapy, which completely eradicated her cancer, followed by a preventive double mastectomy and breast reconstruction. During conventional breast reconstruction, the surgeon inserts tissue expanders after the mastectomy to prepare the breast area for implants, and the patient has a second surgery later to remove the expanders and insert the implants. In Chelsea’s case, however, Scripps Clinic plastic surgeon Jyoti Arya, MD, performed direct-to-implant (DTI) breast reconstruction, enabling Chelsea to receive the implants at the time of the mastectomy and avoid an additional surgery, which significantly reduced her recovery time. Dr. Arya is one of only a handful of surgeons in San Diego who perform direct-to-implant surgery.
“Women who have small to moderate breasts may be able to go straight to an implant, without requiring tissue expanders,” says Dr. Arya. “Also, we placed the implants above the pectoral muscles rather than below them. This is much more comfortable for the patient and results in a more natural shape.”
Chelsea also received intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), a newer form of radiation treatment that is less damaging to surrounding organs, to reduce the likelihood of the cancer recurring while protecting her heart from potentially damaging radiation. This is especially important in younger patients like Chelsea, because radiation to heart can cause problems later in life.
“Currently, the standard of care for advanced stages of breast cancer is for patients to receive radiation therapy targeting the chest wall and lymph nodes,” says Ray Lin, MD, Chelsea’s radiation oncologist. “IMRT was given to reduce radiation exposure to her heart.”
Chelsea credits her entire Scripps team with getting her through her journey.
“My patient navigator was probably the biggest catalyst to get me through this. She not only was there as moral support, she was there for guidance from everything from financial aid to wigs and makeup.,” she says. “The navigators will sit with you and they’ll even cry with you. They are beautiful people.”
She also calls her Scripps cancer support group her “backbone.”
“I want to be there for the next girl who gets diagnosed, and show her how others have shown me that it’s going to be ok,” she says. “I really feel that at Scripps. It’s a family.”
Now cancer-free, Chelsea says she feels like she could not have gone through this experience anywhere else.
“Scripps gave me so much hope. Everybody said I was going to beat it, that I was where I needed to be, and I felt that every day,” she says. “I wouldn’t be here today without Scripps.”
From breast cancer detection and diagnosis to treatment and recovery, Scripps leads the way for cancer care in San Diego with three dedicated breast cancer care centers and a state-of-the-art radiation therapy center. Ranked as one of the nation’s high performing hospitals for cancer care by US News & World Report, Scripps cares for more breast cancer patients than any other San Diego health care provider.
If you would like to join Chelsea in supporting “the next girl who gets diagnosed,” you can with Scripps Health Foundation’s Breast Cancer Blanket Program. Every gift of $100 provides a soft, warm blanket to a breast cancer patient and helps us care for the nearly 1,000 breast cancer patients who come to Scripps each year. To learn more, visit Scripps.org/FightBreastCancer.