June 29, 2020

Pursuing her dream after breast cancer

After beating cancer twice, survivor Janita Green achieves a longtime goal.

Two-time breast cancer survivor Janita Green never gave up on her dream of appearing in fitness competitions.

Janita Green has been passionate about health and fitness her whole life, even competing as a novice bodybuilder in her late 30s. But a series of breast cancer diagnoses when she was in her 40s forced her to postpone her dream of winning a fitness competition.

“I saw it as God tapping me on the shoulder saying, ‘I want your attention; you’re not listening,’” said Green, a certified public accountant who traveled to work sites throughout Atlanta and Chicago as an internal audit and health care consultant. “‘You need to change your hectic lifestyle.’”

That opportunity came when she was offered a position as a finance director at Kaiser Permanente in Georgia. Along with a great culture and reduced travel, the job came with another important benefit: Kaiser Permanente health care.

Comprehensive care for breast cancer survivors

Still recovering from a double mastectomy, Green was referred to the Multidisciplinary Breast Cancer Survivorship Program, which offers comprehensive care for women who have finished active treatment but still need monitoring for possible recurrences or secondary cancers. Survivors may also have physical problems such as numbness, fatigue, and lymphedema and mental health issues such as depression and struggles with body image.

“When women complete treatment for breast cancer, they have a lot of questions: ‘What do I do now? Where do I go? Who do I see?’ Prior to the creation of survivorship programs like ours, there wasn’t a good answer,” said Peter Burns, MD, physician lead for the Kaiser Permanente of Georgia Breast Care Center, who helped launch the survivorship program in 2012.

Appointment overload was another challenge. “Women had as many as 12 separate follow-up appointments a year,” said Dr. Burns. “They’d see their surgeon, their medical oncologist, their radiation oncologist … There was a lot of redundancy.”

The survivorship program consolidates those appointments into 2 comprehensive visits a year for the 5 years following the conclusion of treatment, when recurrences are most likely to occur.

“I make sure they’re up to date on their recommended screenings and diagnostic tests, go over their medications, and ask about problems and side effects,” said physician assistant April Liverman. “I also do a physical exam and screen them for psychosocial factors such as anxiety, financial strain, and work challenges. If patients have concerns that I can’t resolve, I refer them to a specialist. That might include a plastic surgeon, behavioral health specialist, oncologist, breast surgeon, or ob-gyn.”

In Green’s case, numbness and pain in her shoulders was an ongoing challenge. “That’s a common complaint after a bilateral mastectomy because women tend to build up a lot of scar tissue, so I referred her for physical therapy,” said Liverman.

3 physique competition medals placed next to competition button and ID badge

Green won 3 medals in her first figure competition, including 1st place in the true novice category. 

Returning to her dream

Green also felt worried about returning to the rigors of fitness training, but with her care team’s blessing, she moved ahead. “I started working out again, got a trainer, and focused on stopping all of the negative chatter going through my mind,” she said.

While she had previously competed as an amateur bodybuilder, Green decided to concentrate her energy on figure competition, a category that focuses on muscle symmetry and definition rather than size. And in late 2019, she headed to the Lee Haney Games in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

The results exceeded her expectations. She claimed 1st place in the true novice category, 2nd place in masters age 50+, and 5th place in masters age 40+.

Winning was “awesome,” Green said, but the internal growth she experienced was even more powerful. “I learned what I’m capable of and how to let go of my fears. When we believe in ourselves, we can manifest our dreams.”

Learn more about specialty care at Kaiser Permanente