Elizabeth Vines had planned to spend the afternoon Christmas shopping. Instead, after an unexpected report from her doctor, she spent it absorbing the life-changing news that she had breast cancer. "I felt like I couldn't breathe," she says. "I was shocked."
Elizabeth, then just 35, had discovered a pea-sized lump in her breast early in 2014. When she mentioned the lump to her family doctor, "he said I was young, healthy and had no family history, so didn't need to worry about it," she tells us. Six months later, the lump began to grow rapidly, reaching the size of half a lemon over six weeks. An ultrasound indicated a cyst. Though she was told the growth was non-cancerous, Elizabeth wanted it removed.
"I had a diagnostic mammogram when I went to meet with the surgeon, and right then and there they told me I had cancer," she says. After additional imaging exams the next day, Elizabeth was told she needed to begin chemotherapy immediately. But she was unable to schedule an appointment for the treatment near her home in Vancouver until after the holidays. That's when she called Mayo Clinic.
"We have relatives who are snowbirds in Arizona, and they told me I needed to come to Mayo for a second opinion," Elizabeth says. A few days later, Elizabeth was at Mayo Clinic's Arizona campus, where she met with oncologist Donald Northfelt, M.D., surgical oncologist Richard Gray, M.D., and Raman Mahabir, M.D., a reconstructive surgeon.
"When I met with them, I started to realize that Mayo Clinic is a special place," she says. After arriving at a final diagnosis — stage 3B HER2 positive breast cancer — the team "spent hours with us, going over my treatment options and answering all of our questions." They also spent time getting to know Elizabeth. "It was mind-blowing to have doctors care so much about you on an individual level," she says. "They wanted to know about my family and my interests."
They also wanted Elizabeth to receive treatment in the place that was right for her. So they encouraged her to explore options for treatment closer to home. But back in Canada, "they couldn't offer me the same medication," Elizabeth tells us. Doctors there told Elizabeth she likely had just two years to live.
Nearly three years later, she's alive and thriving after returning to Mayo Clinic for treatment.
"She had been told she had a fatal illness essentially, but by coming here and taking advantage of all we have to offer, we were able to turn that around for her," Dr. Northfelt recently told Fox10 Phoenix.
"I'm doing really well and have had an amazing response to treatment," says Elizabeth, who returns to Arizona for checkups every three months. "The visits make a huge difference in my state of mind. They give me hope."
Elizabeth tells us that coming to Mayo Clinic "was life or death for me. I went to Mayo feeling broken. I was looking for a miracle." By telling her story, she hopes to inspire other women who may be searching for miracles of their own. "I tell everyone to seek the best care possible," Elizabeth says. "If you get a diagnosis and it's not the most hopeful, get a second opinion."