Rochester, Minnesota - When Renee Hill was diagnosed with breast cancer - stage 3 invasive ductal carcinoma - on her birthday in July 2016, she was overcome with an avalanche of emotions. And questions.

"I was scared as to what the future may hold. I was just getting my life settled again after the loss of my parents the prior year and was overwhelmed as to how I was going to handle my health care, a new job, my parent's estate and my two residences, one in Minnesota and the other on the East Coast," Renee says. "Once the shock wore off, I realized cancer had to be prioritized without dropping other responsibilities."

The single, 48-year-old director in financial services did what most people who get diagnosed with cancer do - she got on the internet.

"I wanted to know everything about my diagnosis but quickly found myself immersed in information,." Renee says. "The more research I did, the more stress and confusion it caused."

She had received two opinions from other health care facilities before seeking a third opinion at Mayo Clinic. She desperately wanted to have her medical care centralized and coordinated without sacrificing top-notch health care.

"Before I decided to come to Mayo, I was managing all my health records and appointments. It took a long time to get the appointments, and I spent countless hours in waiting rooms," Renee says. "I almost canceled my first consult at Mayo because I was so tired at that point. Still my gut was telling me Mayo was where I needed to go."

A Turning Point

Renee says her first meeting with Marcia Venegas Pont, M.D., in the Breast Diagnostic Clinic was a turning point in her cancer journey.

Dr. Venegas Pont talked with her about a web-based educational tool delivered on a mobile device that was developed by a team of Mayo breast experts, led by Sandhya Pruthi, M.D.

"The application provided a personalized experience so I could easily weigh the pros and cons of each of my treatment and surgical options," Renee says.

The Breast Cancer Surgical Decision Support Tool, which launched in April 2015, walked her through all of the treatment options for her specific type of breast cancer, risks and benefits and recovery.

"I'm grateful that my doctors took the time to answer my questions and I had the application to support my decision-making process." ~ Renee Hill 

"We originally set out to build a digital web-based education decision support tool that could rate a patient's readiness for a specific procedure so we could determine if they needed more time before making a decision," Dr. Pruthi says. "It ended up being a comprehensive educational tool that has given patients a more individualized approach to cancer care and treatment that they wouldn't get anywhere else."

Mayo Clinic patients have access to the tool through an iPad they are loaned at the time of their initial breast cancer consultation for use through their preoperative journey.

"I wish I would have started with Mayo Clinic initially, as this application would have saved a lot of time trying to do the research on my own," Renee explains.

Many options to consider

Renee was given the opportunity to explore all of the treatment options available, including clinical trials, by meeting with a multidisciplinary team of doctors including oncologist Matthew Goetz, M.D., breast surgeon Tina Hieken, M.D., and plastic surgeon Oscar Manrique, M.D.

"The patient is more informed because of the educational content in the tool, which makes each consult more productive," Dr. Pruthi says.

"All of the doctors provided me with various options," Renee says. "Breast cancer is complex, so I'm grateful that my doctors took the time to answer my questions and I had the application to support my decision making process."

Renee was also intent on continuing to work through her treatment and not just being focused on her cancer. The app provided a treatment timeline she could present to her supervisor.

Although she has a supportive network of friends, it was important for Renee to tackle as much of her cancer journey on her own as possible.

"I felt very cared for at Mayo and never alone," she says. "The staff is so friendly and attentive. I didn't wait long for my appointments, and the environment doesn't feel like a hospital, which helped control my anxiety."

More milestones to come

"My diagnosis is not unique, but my experience is. I just celebrated another birthday, and there is no better gift than being cancer-free," Renee says. "I still have more milestones to reach in the near future, but I remain grateful that Mayo will help me through the next round."

And she says she's grateful for the range of resources Mayo brings to her care.

"The web-based educational tool, the multidisciplinary team, more access to clinical trials, and a caring environment have made all the difference in managing everything on my plate," Renee says. "Mayo is not just an excellent institution. It's a community."