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When Joellen Scannell of Lowell went for her annual screening mammogram this past May, she remembers thinking to herself — do I really have to keep doing this?
The retired school principal convinced herself she did; with three young grandchildren who depended on her, health always had to be top priority. When she got called back a few days later to come in for a follow-up, life as she knew it turned upside down.
“I tried not to make a big deal about it, but I was pretty scared,” Scannell says. “I did have a family history – a maternal grandmother and a cousin with breast cancer. Knowing that put me at higher risk, I was always very careful, and very vocal to friends and family about the importance of yearly mammograms.”
A biopsy confirmed her worst fear – she had a small tumor that proved to be invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer. Fortunately, it was caught early, and at Stage 1 was very treatable.
What made a huge difference in her confidence was the amount of information provided to her from the very first interaction, Scannell says. Immediately after her diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound, the breast imaging radiologist showed her the area that looked suspicious, and compared it to her last mammogram. Breast health navigators guided her through the process and kept a smooth flow of communication.
“I was so confident in having all these eyes on my case, I didn’t feel the need to get a second opinion anywhere else,” Scannell says.
In addition, the team approach from many different specialties – radiology, oncology, surgery, radiation, pathology, and more – gave her great comfort amidst all the ups and downs of her cancer diagnosis.
“I was so confident in having all these eyes on my case, I didn’t feel the need to get a second opinion anywhere else,” she says.
Due to the type of cancer, location, and early stage, she was a candidate for breast conserving surgery, or lumpectomy. She says her surgery in mid-June proved to be one of her least stressful days – all she wanted was that tumor to be gone.
After surgery, she followed up with six weeks of radiation. She said the orientation process was so thorough before radiation that the treatments easily became part of her morning routine.
“The whole team in radiation oncology was so respectful of my time, and my life,” she says. “They were so quick in getting me in and out, and having my treatments right here in Lowell was crucial to my busy schedule. I could swing in early in the morning and still get down to watch my grandkids during the week.”
Now, she is back to her regular 3-mile walks, watching her grandkids, and anxiously awaiting the arrival of her fourth grandchild. She is continuing with medication and has yearly follow-up appointments with her physicians, and her next mammogram has already been scheduled.
“My oncologist said we’d be best friends for the next 10 years, and that works for me,” said Scannell. “When you feel well cared for, involved, and respected, it makes such a difference. I’m so glad I’m on the other side, but couldn’t have asked for a better team to get me here.