Dr. Melanie Royce with Alice Keator Dr. Melanie Royce with Alice Keator

Partners in practice: breast cancer patient 'part of the team'

Editor's note: This is the second story in a three-part series exploring the lifelong bonds that can form between UNM physicians and patients when they meet in a moment of crisis.

Breast cancer’s ubiquity doesn’t make it any less scary for each woman who faces it. But Alice Keator finds comfort in her treatment team at the UNM Cancer Center – a team on which she has become a key player. 

“It’s such a scary, intimidating thing to go through,” Keator says. She received her breast cancer diagnosis from another doctor, who advised her to have a double mastectomy right away. Still in shock from the diagnosis, she decided to take some time to weigh her options. 

She started seeing a naturopathic doctor but sought a second opinion at the cancer center. The treatments worked for some time, but when the tumor stopped shrinking, Keator opted for surgery at UNM. 

Keator was impressed with individualized attention she received, particularly the cancer center’s Patient Navigators, who serve as a regular point of contact for patients, families and caregivers. Her navigator helped her schedule the different tests and procedures she would need and directed her toward sources of additional information when she wanted to learn more. 

“He wasn’t pushy at all,” says Keator, who was also reassured to learn that her insurance would allow her to see UNM doctors. 

“Alice is a delightful lady and she makes herself part of the team,” says breast cancer specialist Melanie Royce, MD, PhD, who has directed Keator’s care. 

Royce and Keator share information about cancer treatments, services and other approaches to care. “She was very good about giving me all the facts,” Keator says, “but she didn’t push me. I think they see so many patients over and over again that it’s hard to really listen to the patient. But she does. She listens very well.” 

Keator played an active role in her own treatment. Besides researching naturopathic cancer treatments and family support programs, she and her husband brought Royce their own charts of her progress. Royce often asked to keep the charts to review later. 

Keator’s ability to discover and share information is remarkable, her doctor says. 

“She educates me,” Royce says. “Alice is the go-getter. Some people give up. Not Alice. If she’s not sure of something, not only will she find out [more about it], she will search where to find out and then tell me.”

Royce often shares what she has learned with other patients, helping them through their cancer journeys. 

“Alice is very conscious about what she needs to do for herself as a patient,” says Royce. A cancer diagnosis can often warrant a change in lifestyle. “We don’t want miracles from our patients. It’s the steady, consistent effort that we really want. And Alice is somebody who will say, ‘It can be done.’” 

Categories: Patient Care, Comprehensive Cancer Center

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