PEORIA — Fran Armmer’s research sprung from her perspective as a breast cancer survivor.

“I am looking at the unspoken issue in many breast cancer survivors' lives — recurrence,” said Armmer, a nurse and an associate professor of nursing at Bradley University, while sitting in a meeting room at the university recently. “How can we as healthcare providers prepare in our tool kit the message and understanding of recurrence? Can we anticipate and provide patients with some strategies, answers to questions, or at least some empathy?”

Armmer took a sabbatical a couple years ago to do research she hopes will eventually be used to address a gap in treatment protocols for women with breast cancer. She knows from personal experience that the fear of recurrence can haunt survivors. She was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ in 2007. Armmer’s treatment consisted of radiation and oral medications taken over a number of years.

“There’s something secure about that time while I was taking the medicine,” said Armmer. “You think the medicine is taking care of it. When I had finished the cycle I asked my doctor, ‘Don’t you think we should do it for a few more years just to be safe?’”

Ductal carcinoma in situ does not have a high likelihood of recurrence, but the thought is still there.

“That’s where the whole idea for this project came from,” she said.

Armmer is analyzing data collected from a survey she gave to breast cancer survivors during a breakfast event for the Peoria chapter of Circle of Promise, a minority breast health advisory group working to erase breast cancer disparities in the African American community. Armmer learned about the group when she started looking for ways to gather data for the project, and has since become an active member.

“I put envelopes on the table and breast cancer survivors answered questions about their thoughts, fears, and what they know about the recurrence of breast cancer,” said Armmer.

About 275 usable responses came out of the survey. As Armmer expected, women respond to the specter of recurrence in a variety of ways — some worry a lot, some said they never think about it, and everything in between. Caregivers will need a variety of strategies to help their patients.

“It’s not like you pull a tab and get a ticket. It will be a whole cluster of responses. It has to do with the healthcare provider creating a relationship,” she said.

Armmer said her research is just the beginning in an effort to create an evidence-based plan for helping health care providers better address the possibility of recurrence. More research and study will be needed before new protocols can be formulated.

“We want to enhance strategies for care by creating a way to approach it. Caregivers have excellent intentions, but we need to have strategies to address it. What if we actually plan and have something that points to a way for providers to talk about recurrence?” said Armmer. “If we never have to use it because they don’t have a recurrence, bravo.”

Ultimately, Armmer is hoping healthcare providers can plant a seed that can grow into a healthy response in the event of recurrence.

“We want to make it so it’s not a surprise, and if it does happen they have the tools to strengthen themselves,” said Armmer. “We want to provide tools to help people deal with it in a healthy way.”

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.