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A Survivor's Second Act

As seen in My Health Today, Spring 2018

Leah Morasse is an energetic, rosy-cheeked woman with a crown of soft, blonde curls. Whe accepting a compliment about her appearance, she is quick to respond with, “My hair is growing back.”

The 43-year-old Andover resident’s voice is calm as she recounts the trials she went through over the last 18 months. Diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2016, she had surgery two months later, which was followed by chemotherapy beginning in October, and then radiation treatments from February through April 2017. Today, she is focused on her recovery and feeling better every day.

Importance of early detection. Leah says the 3-D mammography she received at Lawrence General’s Women’s Health Imaging at Andover Medical Center saved her life, because the type of breast cancer she had is difficult to treat and was found at a very early stage. “I am living proof that women should always remember to get their routine breast screenings,” she says. “Early detection is critical.”

The aggressive treatment that followed her screening consumed her life for a year and a half. Those months were tough on her family. While she was well cared for, she felt there were few resources for her two young children and husband. After treatment concluded, Leah says she felt isolated, too. She felt left on her own to deal with many lingering questions and uncertainties once her treatment was over.

A resource for others. “There are resources out there for families and cancer survivors, but they are scattered around the area. My kids and my husband need support, and so do I. [We need] safe places to talk with people who understand what we’ve been through,” Leah observes. “We’ve connected with Andover Youth Services, which has been great—offering a family fun night for cancer survivors and their families. But there are so many questions about nutrition, physical activity, social and emotional needs, among other things. Cancer is draining physically, emotionally, and financially, too. I am on a mission to identify affordable resources that can help families of our region live through the experience together.”

Hypofractionation for Breast Radiation Therapy

Written By Claire Fung, MD

Breast cancer accounts for about a third of cancer diagnoses at Lawrence General Hospital. Majority of patients have early stage disease at diagnosis and are treated with breast conservation surgery followed by adjuvant breast radiotherapy. Radiotherapy utilizes an X-ray beam directed at the breast tissue and is painless. The goal of radiation is to help reduce the chances of cancer recurrence. Radiotherapy is an outpatient treatment given five days a week. In the past, breast radiotherapy required 30-33 sessions given over 6 – 6½ weeks (known as conventional fractionation.) The current practice utilizes evidence-based hypofractionation, which allows treatment to be completed in 20 sessions over 4 weeks, which is significantly shorter. Hypofractionation is proven to provide equal cancer control and cosmetic outcome compared to conventional fractionation, with added benefits of reduced radiation-associated dermatitis and fatigue. Hypofractionation also has socio-economic benefits including less inconvenience due to fewer treatment visits, less time away from family and work, and lower transportation and other logistics-related costs. This patient-centered hypofractionation approach, which is in full compliance with the American Society of Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) practice guidelines, provides our breast cancer patients with up-to-date technologically advanced radiation treatments.

Experts in Early Detection

Written by Lawrence General Hospital Staff

When it comes to the early detection of breast, lung, and colon cancer, Lawrence General Hospital is counted among the best hospitals in the country. According to the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons, Lawrence General Hospital exceeds the national average for catching these cancers in the earliest stages, greatly improving the chances for successful treatment.

“The key to our success is patient education, outreach into the community, and the availability of the most current diagnostic techniques,” says oncologist Pedro Sanz-Altamira, MD, from Dana-Farber Community Cancer Care, who also serves as medical director of the Lawrence General Hospital cancer program. “Lawrence General is excelling in all of these areas.”

Primary care physicians in the region play a particularly important role,” says Dr. Sanz-Altamira, “providing education to patients about cancer prevention and emphasizing the importance of regular screenings. Lawrence General Hospital also hosts regular community events around the Merrimack Valley that provide both education and screening opportunities for the general public.”

In His Own Words: Eugene “Gene” Casey Tells His Story

In the winter of 2013 I had back surgery here at the Lawrence General Hospital. Several months after the surgery, I was still feeling pain in my chest that I thought might have been a result of the surgery. I visited my primary care physician, Dr. Michael Gogjian to have this pain checked out. Dr. Gogjian took an x-ray of my chest and, based on the x-ray, it appeared that I had a case of bronchitis but Dr. Gogjian suggested that I also get additional tests, including a CT scan, to confirm that my pain was a result of bronchitis. 

I felt nervous but I went ahead and scheduled a CT scan. Shortly after the scan, Dr. Gogjian called me and said, “Gene, there’s something there. We don’t know what it is yet but we are not going to worry about that. We are going to send you to Dr. Reddy at Lawrence General.”

I called my sister, Ann-Marie, and with her help scheduled my first appointment with Dr. Reddy. During my first appointment with Dr. Reddy, I met Lissette and Carmen. They were phenomenal and I was taken aback by the care they provided to me.

Dr. Reddy went over everything with me. She told me not to worry about a thing stating, “ We are going to take care of this right away. But I’m going to keep you busy.”  To her word, she kept me busy with different tests, x-rays, PET scan, and blood work in preparation for surgery.

I arrived at Lawrence General for my lung surgery. The nurses who cared for me both before and after my surgery made me feel right at home. The fact that they love what they do was obvious in the way the cared for me on the day of my surgery.  They were all very kind and compassionate.

During my surgery, half of my lung was removed. After surgery, Dr. Reddy met with me and explained that I would be seeing her and Dr. Pedro Sanz-Altamira for my follow up treatments. I began seeing Dr. Sanz shortly after my surgery for my four rounds of chemotherapy. I remember during one of our first meetings, Dr. Sanz told me, “We will do our part. You just need to do your part.” I knew that with this team, I was going to beat cancer.

Dr. Reddy and Dr. Sanz set my mind at ease through this whole ordeal.  The communication between all my doctors and care providers ensured that nothing fell through the cracks.

For me, having to spend six or more hours a day getting treatment was taxing but, the environment where I received my treatments truly made a difference. The environment at Dana-Farber Community Cancer Center on Marston Street in Lawrence is so serene. I received my treatments while taking in the  beautiful views of the Merrimack River.

Going to follow up appointments with Dr. Reddy and Dr. Sanz every three months is a small price to pay for my health. The care I received at Lawrence General Hospital was a “success story-all the way”. In addition to the wonderful care provided by physicians and staff, the support of my family was critical to my recovery.

I’ve been to Lawrence General Hospital many times, and had a lot of surgeries. The people here are “aces.”

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