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For Breast Cancer Patients, Cutting-Edge Care Comes with Compassion Read Joyce Themelis' story

Joyce Themelis
Joyce Themelis

It has been less than a year since Joyce Themelis was diagnosed with breast cancer, and despite being cancer free, she says her life will never be the same.

When she was diagnosed in October of 2016, her thoughts went to her family. How would her husband take the news? What would her 19-year-old son do without his mother? Mentally, she was planning her funeral.

“You panic because it’s never happened before to you,” she says. “I was scared. My mother passed away from leukemia. My aunt had colon cancer. But none of my mom’s siblings had any sort of breast cancer.”

But Themelis, 60, of Pepperell, had an advantage in her fight against cancer. She had done routine mammograms for decades, so her cancer was caught in its earliest stages. She also could draw from the experience of her sister, a breast cancer survivor who was treated by Dr. Rebecca Shore and the Cancer Center at Lowell General Hospital.

“I felt very safe being with the whole team at the Cancer Center,” Themelis says. “They did everything for me. All I had to do was show up.”

“I came to Lowell General because of how they took care of my sister,” Themelis says. “Everything is traumatic when you’re going through it. I went to Dr. Shore and she explained everything – what we were going to do and everything else. She put me very much at ease.”

For patients either facing a possible breast cancer diagnosis or newly diagnosed, Lowell General Hospital provides the services of a Breast Health Navigator who is there to walk the patient through the entire process, from interpretation of test results to scheduling of tests and other treatment.

“I felt very safe being with the whole team at the Cancer Center,” Themelis says. “They did everything for me. All I had to do was show up.”

Inside the Cancer Center, each patient’s case receives a multidisciplinary review by a group that includes a medical oncologist, radiation oncologist, pathologist, radiologist, social worker and a research coordinator who will review if a patient is eligible for clinical trials.

Based on the latest research, Dr. Shore determined that Themelis’ best course of treatment was a lumpectomy, which allows tumors to be removed without disfiguring the breast. 

“(Lumpectomy) is not chosen because of vanity,” Dr. Shore says. “It is because it’s an excellent treatment for cancer.”

The surgery lasts only about an hour, Dr. Shore says, and cosmetically, the breast looks the same as it did before the operation.

After the surgery, Themelis went to see Dr. Matthew Katz, the Cancer Center’s Medical Director of radiation oncology. He recommended radiation treatments to make sure the cancer was gone. From there, she saw Dr. Anasuya Gunturi, a medical oncologist who put her on a low dose medication to help keep her cancer at bay.

Less than a year after her surgery, Themelis is back doing the things she loves – spending time with her family, shopping, going out to eat and spending time at the family’s beach house in Salisbury.

“I’m very lucky and I have no side effects whatsoever,” Themelis says. “I would highly recommend Lowell General Hospital. The people are great here.”

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