Colleen Marusich has always been an advocate for comprehensive health care for women in our Borderplex. After a breast cancer diagnosis, she experienced firsthand how important world-class care is while battling for your life.
Marusich faithfully made sure she was screened for breast cancer every year. When her provider discovered tissue abnormalities, she was encouraged to start screening twice a year. Not long after, she had a biopsy and the resulting cancer diagnosis. Unfortunately, it was triple-negative breast cancer, one of the most aggressive forms of the disease.
“I thought they caught it early because I had been doing all the screening,” Marusich said. “Then I found out I had a very aggressive cancer that didn’t respond to all the traditional treatments. I didn’t know where to start finding answers.”
Across our Borderplex, more and more women need the same answers. According to the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer incidence has increased in El Paso County over the past decade, with a rate of 106 cases per 100,000 women.
It’s the primary cause of cancer death among Hispanic women, a troubling fact for El Paso County, where 83% of the population is Hispanic. In Hispanic women, a substantial number of cases are triple-negative breast cancers, such as that faced by Marusich.
In her time of need, Marusich was blessed to have a friend in Steve Fox, who himself had faced and won a serious cancer battle. He helped guide her to find the best cancer care in El Paso.
“His persistence was admirable,” Marusich said of Fox, who along with his wife Nancy and family recently invested $25 million to help establish a comprehensive cancer center at TTUHSC El Paso. The Steve and Nancy Fox Cancer Center is the first cancer center to serve West Texas and our Borderplex region.
“Steve encouraged me to take my time to make the right decisions, and when he introduced the concept of the Breast Care Center, it carried a lot of weight with me,” Marusich said.
The Breast Cancer Center is operated by Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso, the clinical practice of the Foster School of Medicine at TTUHSC El Paso. TTP El Paso is the region’s most extensive multispecialty medical group practice, with over 250 specialists who are also faculty at medical school.
The Breast Care Center, which has served our community for 30 years, is known for world-class patient care, bringing together teams of specialists to map out the best care plan for patients.
Patients with cancer often face additional complications beyond the cancer itself or due to treatments. Complications vary depending on the type of cancer, if it has spread and what treatment methods are in use, and often include pain, bone complications, gastrointestinal issues and neurological problems.
By having access to a team of medical specialists, patients like Marusich receive a personalized approach to care at TTP El Paso.
“The care was second to none, and I don’t mean just the physicians. It was the receptionist, the nurses and all the different medical professionals. Everyone was an expert at what they did,” Marusich said. “I was quickly connected to multiple experts. I saw a plastic surgeon and an oncologist within a week, allowing me to start making the decisions I needed to make.”
When genetic testing was recommended, she was able to do it the same day. Her team established a treatment plan, and she underwent two surgeries and had radiation treatment. She said she was comforted knowing experts close to home were leading her care. The COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing during her course of treatment, and if she had to travel out of town for treatment, she worried it would put her at further risk of health issues.
“To me, traveling out of town wasn’t even an option,” she said.
With COVID protocols in place at the time, she had to do all her clinic visits and treatments alone, but she had the assurance and comfort of knowing her husband was waiting outside the hospital each time. Had she traveled away from home, possibly alone, there would have been additional costs for hotel, meals and travel.
Now knowing the intricacies of cancer treatment and how important it is to have quality care close to home, Marusich is even more passionate about removing barriers to health care for women in El Paso. She’s a passionate supporter of the future Steve and Nancy Fox Cancer Center and sees it as a gift that will open doors to world-class cancer care, elevate life-saving research and create opportunities for trials of new cancer treatments. They are all the things Steve Fox wanted for Marusich from the very beginning.
“I was told getting healthy was my most important job,” Marusich said. “But you can’t go through cancer alone. It’s just too hard. And you shouldn’t have to focus your energy on traveling.”
With the Breast Care Center and the future Steve and Nancy Fox Cancer Center, Borderplex patients will no longer have to bear the stress and expense of travel and housing for out-of-town cancer treatment. As Marusich did, they will find the answers and comfort they need close to home.
Hope begins here at TTUHSC El Paso, where cancer prevention and treatment programs ensure a brighter future for our Borderplex community. To learn more about TTUHSC El Paso’s impact on cancer care in our Borderplex region, visit ttuhscepimpact.org.
The post Colleen Marusich: From patient to cancer-care advocate appeared first on El Paso Matters.
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