Local Physician 'Stays Open' about Surviving Breast Cancer

Posted at: 10/17/2012 12:06 PM
Updated at: 10/17/2012 11:53 PM
By: Brittany Falkers

Fighting breast cancer is life changing, but one local survivor is taking her experience and spreading the word about openness and positivity in the face of cancer. 

Dr. Michelle Oman has been treating patients as a family physician for almost ten years.  To this day she travels back and forth from Essentia's Virginia and Aurora clinics.   So, she is no stranger to an exam room, but in 2009 a little pink spot on her breast changed that perspective.

"There was no lump that I felt.  There was not anything else.   It was just this little pink spot," Oman said.

Dr. Oman and one of her partners initially treated the pink spot as an infection.  However, she happened to stop at the breast center in Essentia Health St. Mary's Medical Center while in Duluth.

"I don't know what possessed me to do that, because normally I kind of poo-poo my own things and go on," she said, "But I did stop and we did a mammogram.  And low and behold, there was something there."

Michelle Oman was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, a rare type of breast cancer.  Within a week of her initial biopsy, Oman started chemo.

"It just went from there.  No time to think about it.  Not in that short period of time," she said.

Being diagnosed and treated for cancer is a scary time for anyone, but Oman said that being a physician herself put her in a unique position.

"There's a definite disadvantage to knowing too much," she said. 

However, there was an advantage too.  Oman knew better than to go online to dig up more research and she encourages others to follow that advice.

"Don't do it" Oman said, "You will be crying constantly.  You will be upset.  You will be scared, because most of it is negative."

The dual patient-doctor perspective gave her a big gift, she said. The ability to be open about everything she was going through with her husband and two young sons.

"It was difficult.  How do you explain to a three year old what mom is going through?" she said.  "The first time your kids ask you, 'Mom, are you going to die?' It's tough."

Oman says she knew it was important to help her family, especially her kids, understand.  So, through many family discussions, trying on wigs with the kids, and some expressive art work on her head, they did.

"With family and friends, a lot of the time they don't know what to say to you, just like you don't know what tot say to them.  You have to work through it," she said.

After chemotherapy treatment, a bilateral mastectomy, and a whole lot of up and downs, Oman is cancer free. Now, she's taking what she's learned from her journey through cancer and sharing her positivity, advice, and story with others.  All with a hope of inspiring openness and hope in others going though a similar situation.

"One of the biggest things is, remember there's hope.  It is a tough journey, but you learn a lot on the way too.  You learn a lot about yourself. You learn a lot about your family and your friends," Oman said.

Dr. Michelle Oman will share her personal journey with women who attend a free breast cancer seminar sponsored by Essentia Health. The event takes place from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, at the August Fitger Room at Fitgers, 600 E. Superior St. in Duluth.

The theme for the event is "A Recipe for Breast Health." Attendees will have a chance to win a pink KitchenAid Artisan Susan G. Komen stand mixer. The event is free, but registration is preferred. Call (218) 786-4380 or email RSVP@essentiahealth.org.

Oman promises an open and frank discussion about dealing with diagnosis, considering treatment options and managing the impact on a woman's family.  She'll share her experiences fighting cancer as a wife and mother of two young children - like how she helped her sons get used to her hair loss.  She will discuss breast cancer myths and much more.

The seminar will feature gourmet refreshments and a chance to chat with breast cancer experts.  Atendees will also hear from Dr. Ken Dornfeld, an Essentia Health radiation oncologist, who will explain mammography screening guidelines.