Hopeful Journeys - Ellen's Story
At 81 years young, Wayne resident Ellen Contino has more energy than most teenagers. The retired high school guidance counselor is out on the town at least three days a weeks – playing cards, attending Book Club, volunteering at church, dining with “the gals,” and catching a movie every Friday. That may explain why her fears about breast cancer were less about dying, and more about living.
“I was never afraid of the disease,” she confided. “I just didn’t want to slow down!”
In November of 2014, Ellen visited Chilton Medical Center for her annual mammogram, just as she’d done for the last 40 years. This time, however, the screening uncovered an abnormality. She was called back for additional testing, including an ultrasound and an ultrasound-guided biopsy.
The results revealed that Ellen had multicentric breast cancer. “That means that two different cancers developed independently in different quadrants of the same breast,” explained Michelle Azu, MD, FACS, Director of Breast Surgery. “It’s like having one tumor in New Jersey and the other in California.” And while certain types of breast cancers can be treated with lumpectomy, national guidelines for multicentric breast cancer favor removal of the breast.
“When you’re 80, a lot of things happen, but I never thought I would have to have a mastectomy,” Ellen admitted, despite a family history of breast cancer and other risk factors. “I felt sad and a little shocked, but also grateful that the cancer was found before it became a bigger problem. I just had to get through it.”
So Ellen approached her cancer treatment the same way she approaches everything else in life – with gusto.
Due to her general good health and robust lifestyle, Ellen and her physicians developed a comprehensive, personalized plan of care, which included breast surgery and immediate reconstruction followed by three months of chemotherapy, since the cancer had traveled to one of her lymph nodes.
“Ellen’s physiologic age is at least a decade younger than her chronological age, which was a factor in her treatment planning,” remarked Michael Kane, MD, FACP, Atlantic Health System’s Medical Director of Community Oncology. “We presented her with options tailored to her particular disease and circumstances.”
Supported by an army of family and friends, Ellen received all of her therapy at Chilton. It was the first stop along her cancer journey, as well as the last. “The doctors and nurses were excellent... knowledgeable, friendly and comforting,” she noted. “I never felt much pain or discomfort, but I was horribly tired, which was really the worst part.”
Today, Ellen is thrilled to put breast cancer behind her and reflects upon her experience with gratitude – as well as a bit of nostalgia. “Chilton has always been there for me and my family,” she said. “My children were born at the hospital, and my grandmother received house calls from Dr. Chilton back in the 1940s. Honestly, I never even considered going anywhere else.”
Much to her delight, Ellen’s social calendar is back in full swing. Along with her regular activities, she and her gal pals recently enjoyed a Broadway show and soon depart for a beach vacation. She’s also treasuring time at home with her husband, Louis, and eagerly anticipating visits from their two sons and six adoring grandchildren.
Dr. Kane points out that women are never too old to consider a screening mammogram. “Ellen exemplifies the value of early detection. She’s active, vibrant and full of life,” he added. He encourages all women to discuss the benefits of an annual mammogram with their health care providers. Even at the age of 90.
“I feel so fortunate,” stated Ellen. “I’m free once again to do all the things that make me happy… and it’s just wonderful.”
Mammography can save lives. Please get screened or encourage a friend to get screened today!
For more information about The Breast Center at Chilton Medical Center, or to schedule an appointment, call us at 973-829-7935.