Marie Magdala Denose, Breast Cancer
"The treatment at Sylvester is first class."
For Two Sisters, Battle with Cancer is a Family Affair
For sisters Mathana and Marie Magdala Denose breast cancer has always been a fact of life, a disease they heard mentioned far too often while growing up in their native Haiti.
“There is cancer on my mother’s side and on my father’s side there was a family history of the disease as well,” explains 44-year-old Mathana. “So when that’s the cast- you really need to take care of yourself and be on top of things—and try to get the best medical care.”
“The treatment at Sylvester is first class.”Because of this, as adults, the two sisters were vigilant about performing breast self-examinations and went yearly to get their mammograms. Yet even with all of their preventative measures, both women were diagnosed with the disease in 2003.
“I did not feel any thing whatsoever; nothing bothered me at the time,” recalls Marie Magdala Denose. 43. “The only thing that was different was that I was urinating a lot, and so I went to see my primary care physician to see why that was happening.”
Since she suffered from uterine fibroids—benign growths that develop in the muscular wall of the uterus—her doctor assumed they might be pushing down on her bladder and causing her to urinate frequently. So he recommended she see her gynecologist for a complete check-up and exam.
“During that visit, my ob/gyn asked me if I had gone to get my yearly mammogram, and I told him that I had not. So he insisted I go ahead and schedule it, which I did. That’s when I found out I had the disease,” she explains.
Marie Magdala was scheduled for surgery right away, and Eli Avisar, M.D., assistant professor of clinical surgery in the Division of Surgical Oncology and co-leader of Sylvester’s Breast Cancer Site Disease Group, performed the lumpectomy (a surgical procedure where just the tumor is removed leaving the surrounding breast tissue intact) along with the removal of lymph nodes.
“When I diagnosed her four years ago she had cancer in the right breast,” recalls Avisar. “After the surgery, we realized that it was invasive and Stage III because she also had eight positive lymph nodes on the right side so those were removed as well.”
After the successful surgery, Marie Magdala received eight doses of chemotherapy treatment, which is the standard protocol. “When I received my chemo, I lost my hair, and everyone there at the CTU (Comprehensive Treatment Unit) would talk to me, and even though I was suffering, I would make them laugh,” she says. But after the second dose she had problems tolerating the chemotherapy and had to be hospitalized for three days. “I did not do well on it at all,” she recalls.
Thirty-three doses of radiation followed, where she received one dose a day for 33 days. The treatment’s side effects included extreme fatigue and overall weakness. “My bones were hurting me,” she recalls. “I would work half days and leave the office at around noon to get my radiation and then go home and sleep. It was very tiring.”
Once the radiation and chemotherapy treatments were complete, Marie Magdala was placed on Aromasin™, an estrogen modulator therapy in pill form that helps the body keep the disease at bay.
But as Marie Magdala recovered, sister Mathana also found a lump during a breast self exam in late 2003. “So I scheduled my mammogram and they told me to get a second opinion. So I went to Sylvester and they told me that I needed surgery to remove the tumor,” she says. Again Avisar performed a lumpectomy.
Fortunately in Mathana’s case, the cancer was caught early and there was no spread to the lymph nodes. It was considered Stage I, where the tumor is two centimeters in size or smaller and limited to the breast. Thirty treatments of radiation followed over a span of six weeks.
“The radiation wasn’t that bad. It made me feel very tired and weak, and I had to take time off from work,” she recalls. Today, Mathana also takes Aromasin™ daily and has not seen a recurrence of the disease since.
That was not the case with her younger sister, Marie Magdala. Although she had been cancer-free for three years, her journey with breast cancer soon started up again.
After undergoing a routine mammogram in 2006, all seemed well. Luckily, both sisters always scheduled an appointment to see Avisar after their yearly mammograms, and that particular day was no different.
“When he saw me for that appointment, Dr. Avisar told me, ‘Yes I know everything is fine, but please sit down and let me check your left side,’” recalls Marie Magdala. “If he would not have done that I would not be here talking to you today.”
Avisar remembers that day clearly: “Although she seemed fine, I went ahead and examined her anyway and found lymph nodes under the other arm pit,” adds Avisar. “I then insisted on doing a needle biopsy and it indeed came back cancerous. If it would not have been caught then, the tumor would have continued to grow and might have spread elsewhere. She ended up having surgery on the left arm pit where no additional cancerous nodes were found.”
Today both sisters are healthy and in remission. Now under the care of Avisar and Stefan Glück, M.D., Ph.D., F.R.C.P. ©, clinical director of the Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute at Sylvester, they come in every three to six months for routine scans and blood work.
Furthermore, they are both grateful for the medical care and attention they received while at Sylvester, where staff took their time to review their medical history and patiently explain procedures and protocols.
“I felt like a real person not just a number,” says Mathana.“Everything was wonderful, and the treatment at Sylvester is first class,” adds Marie Magdala. “Faith is very important and although I did not go to a support group per se, with faith, my family and sisters, and the support of Dr. Avisar and Dr. Glück, everything went well.”