Ways to Give

Izabela Gardula Navigates through Her Cancer Journey with Valley’s Multidisciplinary Team Approach

Photo Caption: Izabela Gardula (second from the right) with her friends and supportive team of Valley nurses
outside the Infusion Center at Valley’s Blumenthal Cancer Center in Paramus

November 28, 2018 Ridgewood, New Jersey For 33-year-old Izabela Gardula, being diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer was like being thrown into a raging storm. As a woman with a family history of breast cancer, Izabela wisely opted to have a mammogram when she felt a lump on her breast.

“One day, I was getting a mammogram, and the next a radiologist was telling me I had breast cancer,” Izabela explains. “It was like a bomb going off in my head.”

Confident and determined, Izabela was eager to take on the fight against breast cancer. Having heard about Dr. Thomas Rakowski’s excellent reputation as an oncologist from friends, she reached out to Valley’s Chief of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Two days later, Izabela walked into Valley’s Blumenthal Cancer Center in Paramus to meet with her cancer care team and decide on a treatment plan.

The typical breast cancer journey involves a deluge of doctor appointments, evaluations, diagnostic tests and surgeries, all of which can be very overwhelming. Valley assigns patient and nurse navigators to help coordinate access to the comprehensive continuum of healthcare services. On her first visit Izabela was warmly greeted by Karen Kwilecki, the breast nurse navigator who guided Izabela through the entire complex cancer care decision-making process.

“From day one, Karen acted like my own personal GPS service. She wrote up a map for me to follow, and walked me through the confusing clinical details, booked and accompanied me to my doctor appointments, answered all of my questions and arranged it so that the team was all on the same page about my progress,” Izabela recalls. “She did this all with warmth and compassion, holding my hand – sometimes even literally!”

As one of Valley’s Oncology Navigators, Karen and those like her are an integral part of our first-rate team of cancer specialists. Navigators remain by the patient’s side from the moment of that initial suspicious finding, through diagnosis and treatment and well into survivorship. They facilitate access to cancer care and ensure timeliness of services, all of which can lead to improved clinical outcomes.

“I wanted the cancer out of my body as quickly as possible. Karen was my inside advocate making sure everything was progressing along,” Izabela stated. “She was my central point of contact, coordinating with the geneticist, oncologist, surgeons, radiologists, infusion, and secure insurance coverage and the logistics that go along with that. Within a mere two weeks of my breast cancer diagnosis, I had a double mastectomy.”

After the surgery, Izabela underwent months of chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy. She became quite familiar with Valley’s staff at the Blumenthal Cancer Center located in The Valley Hospital’s Robert & Audrey Luckow Pavilion. Between Valley’s oncology experts and her Breast Nurse Navigator Karen, Izabela has now completed her cancer treatment journey.

An avid nature lover, Izabela is now back to doing what she loves – camping, hiking and spending lots of time outdoors. Yet she has a new outlook on life. “Every day when I wake up, I thank God it's a beautiful day,” she beams. “And I say to myself, ‘Here we go!’”

Valley’s Blumenthal Cancer Center stands ready every day to help cancer patients like Izabela to weather the storm and get back on track to wellness.

As a grateful survivor, Izabela regularly urges her friends and family, “Trust Valley. They will take care of you.”

 Photo caption: Izabela Gardula (right), a Valley breast cancer patient, started a tradition of banging a gong to ceremoniously mark the end of chemotherapy treatments at Valley-Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Care.. SEE FULL STORY