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The Cancer Center of Huntsville, P.C.

TCC News


Robin Erwin - Survivorship Care

What is Cervical Cancer?

Male Breast Cancer

Diagnosis Strengthens Dedication

Real Men Wear Pink

Belles and Beaus Ball



Introducing Robin Erwin - Survivorship Care

We are excited to welcome Robin Erwin, CRNP to the TCC family. Robin is going to be managing Survivorship Care. Survivorship focuses on the health and life of a person with cancer post treatment until the end of life. This includes issues related to the ability to get health care and follow-up treatment, late effects of treatment, second cancers, and quality of life.

During your course of treatment, you will have an appointment with Robin. At this appointment, you may discuss any side effects that you are experiencing from your treatment and when to call the office. Robin will help manage these symptoms. She will assess emotional distress caused by your illness. If needed, referrals to other medical professionals or medications may be started to help lessen this distress. Robin will assist with life or work concerns and complete forms for employment disruptions. If you have FMLA or short/long term disability forms that need to be completed, please bring these to your appointment. Our team can also provide financial resources or counseling if needed.

Robin is a Huntsville native. She received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1999 from UAH. She then worked in the Surgical Trauma ICU as an RN. In 2012 she graduated with a masters in nursing and began her career as a Family Nurse Practitioner. She worked in Primary Care until 2019. She is Board certified by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

In her free time Robin enjoys cooking, reading and traveling with her husband and daughter.


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January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month


What is Cervical Cancer?

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cervix at the lower part of the uterus in a woman. It can be contracted through the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a sexually transmitted infection. Various strains of HPV play a role in causing most cervical cancer.

In its early stages, cervical cancer presents no signs or symptoms. However, HPV can survive for years in the body and may contribute to the process that causes some cervical cells to become cancerous.

HPV is so common that most people contract it at some time in their lives. The virus usually causes no symptoms, which is why it is difficult to know whether or not you have it. For most women, HPV will go away on its own, however, if it does not, there is the chance that cervical cancer will develop.

Dr. Rosa Michel Ortega with The Cancer Center of Huntsville says “Cervical cancer can be prevented with a vaccine that protects against HPV or regular screenings such as your pap smear. It might be a nuisance, but it can save your life.”

Signs and symptoms of more advanced cervical cancer may include the following:

  • Watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may have a foul odor
  • Vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause
  • Pelvic pain and/or pain during intercourse

All women are at risk for cervical cancer, but it occurs most frequently in women over the age of 30.

Other things that may increase your risk of cervical cancer:

  • Having HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) or other conditions that make it difficult for your body to fight off infection
  • Using birth control pills for a long time (five years or longer)
  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Having given birth to three or more children

Cervical cancer is treated in several ways depending upon the type of cervical cancer and how far it has spread. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

If you start showing any signs of cervical cancer, please go talk to you doctor immediately. The sooner you are diagnosed, the better.


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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month


Male Breast Cancer

Although it is rare, men do get breast cancer. Just last week, the singer, Beyoncé’s father, Mathew Knowles, revealed to the world that he is one of those statistics who has male breast cancer.

Around a half million women each year are diagnosed with breast cancer, while fewer than 300 men are diagnosed with the disease. Men carry a higher mortality rate than do women, primarily because men are less likely to assume that a lump is cancer, delaying treatment until the disease has progressed.

Knowles says he first noticed something was wrong when small red dots kept appearing on the breast area of his shirts. His wife also noticed small amount of blood on the bed sheets. Knowles says that when he squeezed his nipples, there was a discharge.

Doctors did a smear test of the blood, but it came back inconclusive. A mammogram confirmed that Knowles has Stage One breast cancer.

Male breast cancer can exhibit the same symptoms as the female cancer, including a lump. Survival rates and treatment plans are basically the same for men and women with breast cancer. Early detection and treatment often reduces the risk of dying from breast cancer in both men and women.

As with women, genetic testing is also recommended for men who have breast cancer. If a man tests positive for a defective gene, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2, there is a 50% chance that his children will be carrying the gene.

Men with a genetic predisposition for developing breast cancer, also have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.


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Diagnosis Strengthens Kathy Cothren's Dedication to the Cause

Content Credit: News Courier/Jessica Barnett

Like many people, Kathy Cothren had known for a while something just wasn't right. Like many people, she did her best to ignore it.

"I knew I had problems, but you're just kind of like, 'If I don't pay attention to it, it'll go away,'" she recalled.

It took attending the funeral of her friend Lisa Vaughn to give Cothren the kick in the pants she needed to go see a doctor. Like Cothren, Vaughn was a wife and mother. She had grandchildren. They both worked for the city of Athens. They were both members of local churches.

And now cancer had kept Vaughn from ever seeing the age of 50.

"It just hit me," Cothren said. "I went home that night, and told my husband, I said, 'Well, I believe I need to go to the doctor,' and he said, 'I believe you do, too.'"

Her husband asked if she wanted to go that night, but Cothren decided against it. Instead, she called a friend who worked at The Cancer Center of Huntsville. By the end of the week, she was being sent for a mammogram and ultrasound.

The next week, she had a biopsy and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She started chemotherapy immediately after the diagnosis, undergoing her final treatment on Aug. 17, exactly five months after her first visit to the clinic in Ardmore.

But her treatment didn't stop there. On Oct. 3, she had surgery to remove her tumor and 12 lymph nodes. Only four of the lymph nodes were affected by the cancer, but the tumor had grown to 14 centimeters.

"(My doctor) said, 'You could get a prize, because you had the biggest tumor I've taken out in a while,'" Cothren said.

A PET scan after the surgery revealed no signs of remaining cancer. However, she will have radiation treatments five days a week for seven weeks just to make sure.

She has since learned her cancer was 100 percent hormone-fed, meaning it used the estrogen in her body to grow. Once she finishes treatments, she will have to take a pill for the rest of her life to block hormones. She doesn't know if it will help prevent the cancer from returning.

"All you can do is pray for the best," she said. "That's all I've been doing, and I've had a lot of good people praying for me."

And it seems to have worked. Cothren admitted she never got sick or nauseated during chemo. She was able to rely on insurance to help with medical expenses.

"I can't ask for anything to be any better than what it is," she said.

Not that this has stopped any of her friends and supporters from trying. Wherever she goes, people stop to ask how she's doing, offer her a hug or give her a gift. Many of the gifts are on display in her home, from a pink pumpkin painting on her back door to a "cancer coin" and rooster on a table in the living room.

Some — like the T-shirt a local store owner left on her porch — are proudly displayed when she goes out.

Yet she remains humble, despite the attention.

"I feel like I'm just going through something that a lot of other people are going through," Cothren said. "I just hope that someone can see how blessed I've been, and it'll help them get through theirs."

However, humble hasn't stopped her from reminding everyone to get their mammograms. Like many people, she has realized the hard way just how vital those checkups can be.

She has also, like many people, gained a newfound appreciation for cancer organizations and fundraisers. Cothren loved Relay for Life before. Fighting cancer has only strengthened her support.

"I've always been 100 percent Relay," she said. "I'm 200 percent now."

Content Credit: News Courier/Jessica Barnett. Click to visit the News Courier article


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Real Men Wear Pink – Local doctors focus on educating the public during Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Content Credit: WHNT19News

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. --October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and for doctors and organizations like the American Cancer Society, the most important thing they can do is use this time to educate the public.

This time of year, pink is Dr. Ali Hachem's favorite color.

"We're supposed to wear pink every day," he explained. "Sometimes it's a challenge, so sometimes we wear socks with pink colors, sometimes we wear the shirts and the necktie. The idea is so that people know that we are here for the cause."

Dr. Hachem and John Nicholson from The Cancer Center of Huntsville are doing the Real Men Wear Pink campaign throughout October, to raise money to be donated to the American Cancer Society.

"Some of it is used for research, some of it is used to assist patients and their families during treatments and things like that," said Dr. Hachem.

ACS Community Development Manager Kaki Morrow said the campaign is a great way to make breast cancer awareness more visible locally.

"Real Men Wear Pink is probably one of my favorite campaigns because we have so many men here in the community who have lent their platform to raise money for breast cancer awareness and research," she explained.

For Dr. Hachem, he is using it as an opportunity to educate. Breast cancer is one of the most common, but also one of the most treatable cancers.

"Because of that, it's important to increase awareness of the diagnosis of breast cancer, so people know there are a lot of things we can do in terms of screening so we can try to find the cancer very early on," he explained.

Prevention is key. There are different ways to do that, from starting mammograms slightly earlier than the usual recommended age of 40, or: "Yes screening is very important, but I need to stress this, lifestyle is very important," said Dr. Hachem.

He also urges women to always have professionals do their screenings.

"I think every woman should do self-examination, but I just want to warn patients don't rely on this as a tool to look for cancer, because truly it's just not enough," said Dr. Hachem.

One of the most common misconceptions Dr. Hachem wants to clear up is that a patient is too old for breast cancer screenings.

"It's not so much the chronological age, how old you are, but it's more important to look at this in terms of physiological age, meaning how healthy are you," he explained.

He said if doctors think you are living a healthy lifestyle in your later years, you should still consider screenings.

Another misconception, "People think, 'Well I've never had any of my family members have breast cancer, why should I worry about breast cancer?' and the answer is most breast cancer is not inherited and it's not genetic," said Dr. Hachem.

And it affects a large number of people here in the Tennessee Valley.

"Here in North Alabama last year alone we served over 3,200 patients. Any services that any cancer patients or their caregivers find themselves needing please don't hesitate to contact us," said Morrow.

For more information on the American Cancer Society and the services they provide, you can visit their website at www.cancer.org here.

For a link to donate to Dr. Hachem's fund, or get involved with the Real Men Wear Pink campaign, you can click here.

Content Credit: WHNT 19 Click to read WHNT 19 News Article and access the Video Clips


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Belles and Beaus Ball

The 13th Annual Belles & Beaus Ball (formerly Summer Lights Celebration) is one of the most prominent, exciting fundraising events in the area. The evening was packed with top notch entertainment, delicious food, exciting auctions and much more while friends came together to further the American Cancer Society's mission.

This year twenty men and women from the Greater Huntsville area who represent the fight against cancer in our community were honored. While survivors/fighters were on the front lines of this battle, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and community activists are also banding together to help save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer. All proceeds from the Belles & Beaus Ball went to the American Cancer Society for this purpose.

Our very own Dr. Rachel Kruspe was honored for her work with cancer patients that she treats at The Cancer Center of Huntsville. We are very proud of the work Dr. Kruspe does and the way she cares for her patients. Congratulations Dr. Rachel Kruspe.


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