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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.”

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