Meet Lori Platt, MD | Breast Cancer Survivor

Lori Platt, MD, her husband, Matt Rase, and their daughters, Vivian and Estelle

“I don’t care about having breasts. Or hair. I would much rather be alive.”

Superficial details do not interest Lori Platt, MD, who was not yet eight months pregnant with her second child when she faced a devastating dual diagnosis: preterm childbirth and her own aggressive, late-stage breast cancer.

As an OB-GYN well-versed in both conditions, Dr. Lori Platt understood the difficulty of the road ahead. To protect life and health, she relied on the care teams she knows so well. While her courage continues to inspire colleagues, patients, family and friends, Lori admits to a single intense fear.

“Nothing about the cancer treatment scared me. I understand that, and I’m not afraid of death or of dying,” she explained. “I’m only scared of leaving my husband without a wife and my kids without a mom.”

Physician, wife, mother and breast cancer survivor

Before becoming a doctor, wife and mother, Lori was a Nebraska farm girl. She grew up in Murdock before heading to the Caribbean and to the East Coast for medical school and her OB-GYN residency. When she came back to the Midwest in 2010 to be close to family, medical school classmates teased her that returning to a hometown of 250 was a foolish move for a single woman.

Lori replied, “Everything happens for a reason.”

At the Cass County Fair, Lori’s brother reintroduced her to a friend, high school classmate Matt Rase, and soon wedding bells rang for Lori and Matt.

In August 2012, the couple’s daughter Vivian was born, and a second pregnancy quickly followed. Lori and Matt had a growing family, satisfying careers and a bright future.

Dr. Lori Platt is part of a highly respected Methodist Physicians Clinic Women’s Services medical practice located on the Methodist Jennie Edmundson campus in Council Bluffs.

“I love taking care of women,” she explained. “I wake up happy each day because I love what I do.”

Move to Methodist Women's Hospital for pre-term labor

While pregnant, Dr. Platt treated patients and delivered babies until her own labor began. On a workday in late September 2013, more than a month before her due date, Lori felt the contractions signaling her second child’s arrival.

She called her husband, Matt, and her OB-GYN and medical partner Toby Marshall, MD, who was on vacation that week. Both men raced to Lori’s side. She was in active labor with strong contractions every
three minutes.

“We were ready to deliver the baby at Methodist Jennie Edmundson if we couldn’t slow labor and safely transport Lori to Methodist Women’s Hospital,” Dr. Marshall explained.

Methodist Women’s Hospital, where the couple’s daughter Vivian was born, is the region’s leader in birth services. More babies are born there, and more babies receive specialized Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) care there, than at any other hospital in Nebraska and southwestern Iowa.

“At Methodist Women’s Hospital,” Cindy Mirfield, NICU service leader, explained, “we can have a complete neonatal team at the bedside in a moment, surrounding a woman and her family with the experts they need. That makes a huge difference, sometimes a life-and-death difference.”

Doctor as cancer patient

Lori was quickly admitted to the High Risk OB Unit. Among those on her care team were maternal-fetal medicine specialists (MFMs) Hemant Satpathy, MD, and Robert Bonebrake, MD, of the Methodist Perinatal Center, the largest perinatal practice in the region. As MFMs, Drs. Satpathy and Bonebrake are OB-GYNs with additional specialized training in caring for high-risk mothers and babies. Both physicians had worked with Dr. Platt to co-manage difficult pregnancies. Both admire her dedication to her patients and marvel at her strength and humor in the face of adversity.

“Lori is more than a wonderful physician,” explained Dr. Satpathy. “She is a wonderful and courageous human being.”

For the next 10 days, while a patient herself, Dr. Platt continued checking on her patients who had been admitted and charting on her iPad, prompting Dr. Bonebrake to joke he was no longer needed while she covered rounds.

This strong work ethic is “typical Lori,” said her sister, Julie Frost, with great affection. “Lori puts her patients and everybody else before herself.”

Breast cancer discovery

Lori found the forced downtime part irritant, part luxury. Enjoying the comforts of the hotel-style hospital suite at Methodist Women’s Hospital, she took a long shower, a treat for a busy mother of a one-year-old.

Reaching for a towel, Lori felt pain as her arm touched her breast. After a thorough assessment, she texted her sister, Julie: I think I have breast cancer.

The next day, an ultrasound and biopsy confirmed the diagnosis, indicating the large lump she’d discovered was a likely Stage 3 invasive lobular carcinoma.

“We were in shock,” Lori said. “Julie was my rock, ready to hold my hand through anything. Matt and I hugged each other and cried, wondering why this was happening to us.”

Welcoming Baby Estelle

Although some cancer treatments can begin safely during pregnancy, others cannot, and while Lori was pregnant, there was no way to know if the cancer had metastasized.

“There is no single right answer regarding when to deliver and start cancer treatment,” explained Dr. Bonebrake. “This is a case-by-case, multidisciplinary decision that varies by the risks and benefits to mother and baby, degree of prematurity, and the specific type, stage and aggressive nature of the cancer.”

The advice from Methodist Women’s Hospital neonatologist Lynn O’Hanlon, MD, who led the baby’s care team, was direct: Lori was already dilated to 7 centimeters, ready for delivery, and the baby, while premature, was fine.

“It was clear to me,” Dr. O’Hanlon said, “we needed to deliver this baby.”
 
On October 6, Estelle Kaye Rase was born. She spent the next 24 days in the NICU, where she thrived as her feeding skills matured.

“Our angel Estelle was telling Mommy to slow down and take care of herself.”

Matt Rase

“Estelle came out beautiful and healthy, breathing on her own, and greeted us with a big smile,” Matt said. “She was happy to be out in the world, and we needed some happiness in our lives.”

With Estelle safe, Matt and Lori now shared a single fear: Would their little girls have a mother to raise them?

Lori and her siblings had lost their own mother to a rare cancer of the appendix eight years earlier.

Lori was determined to fight for her life.

Fighting breast cancer

“I did my research,” Dr. Platt explained. “I knew what game plan I wanted and, of course, I wanted my care team at Methodist Jennie Edmundson.”

To perform her cancer surgery, Dr. Platt chose surgeon Michael Zlomke, MD, medical director of the Methodist Jennie Edmundson Breast Health Center. This center, the only one in southwestern Iowa accredited by the American College of Surgeons National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, provides full-service, individualized treatment through a collaborative team approach for best outcomes.

Lori underwent a double mastectomy, due to additional areas of concern in her other breast, 12 days after Estelle’s birth.

“Lori was amazing in her determination to fight tooth and nail to do what was needed to get back to being a normal parent and physician as soon as possible,” Dr. Zlomke said.

Lori’s next treatment phase, six rigorous cycles of chemotherapy, was overseen by medical oncologist John Okerbloom, MD.

“Lori has such a positive attitude, amazing inner strength and great family support,” said Dr. Okerbloom. “During treatment she would chat with her dad, they’d Skype to watch her little girls, and then Lori usually would go back to her office to see patients.”

Lori’s father, Don Platt, was her chemo buddy, explaining, “That’s just what a dad does, and
I was glad to do it.”

Four months of chemotherapy were followed by six weeks of daily radiation therapy delivered over Dr. Platt’s lunch breaks. By this time, she had returned to work nearly full-time.

Inspirational cancer survivor

“Dr. Platt is so inspiring,” said Angie Watts, a Methodist Jennie Edmundson radiation therapist. “Radiation was just part of her busy day as she continued with her life, her kids, her practice. Several times she went straight from our treatment table to deliver a baby.”

Asked if his wife was overdoing it, Matt smiled and said, “Sure, that’s Lori’s way. We could tell her no, and she’d do it anyway.”

Looking back, Matt described the year as a whirlwind of making sure the girls were cared for, hoping and praying the treatments were working while worrying about the side effects, and knowing long-term survival rates for this stage and type of breast cancer are lower than others.

The couple rejoiced when recent tests revealed Lori’s tumor markers had dropped into the normal range.
“I’m fortunate that there is so much research and so many medicines to treat breast cancer,” Dr. Platt said. “That is not true for all cancers, and more funding should be poured into all cancer research.”

Dr. Platt was chosen a 2014 honoree for the Spirit of Courage Celebrity Weekend sponsored by Jennie Edmundson Hospital Foundation, an annual charity care fundraiser for Methodist Jennie Edmundson Cancer Center patients. Minimizing the challenges she has faced, Dr. Platt is far more concerned for others whose cancer battles are just beginning, including many of her patients and several close loved ones.

Feeling blessed, lucky and hopeful

Whether she is caring for patients or spending precious time with family, Lori says she feels blessed, lucky and full of hope. Some of the happiest moments come while cuddling healthy, perfect Estelle. In her heart, Lori knows she and her new baby gave each other the gift of life.

“If Estelle had been full-term, I wouldn’t have noticed the mass in my breast until much later, after I had her,” Lori explained, noting that extended delays can lead to grimmer outcomes.

“Our angel Estelle was telling Mommy to slow down and take care of herself,” Matt said.

“Estelle came early to tell me to pay attention,” Lori said, “and I did.”

Story by Julie Cerney