Patient Stories

Anything But Ordinary

mary breast cancer surgery patient northwestern medicine

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Mary’s Breast Cancer Surgery

Mary knows what she likes. At the age of 80, she has learned a thing or two about how she wants to live. She would describe it as an ordinary life, nothing unusual. Except that lately, it’s been anything but.

When Mary went for her annual mammogram with Nadim Khoury, MD, a recently retired Northwestern Medicine physician and her primary care provider for 25 years, he asked her to return for further testing. Her following visits included a diagnostic mammogram, MRI and biopsy. The biopsy confirmed a diagnosis of breast cancer – non-invasive ductal carcinoma in situ – and her care team referred her to Kevin Bethke, MD, a breast cancer surgeon with Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center at Northwestern University. Dr. Bethke removed Mary’s tumor, but surgery revealed additional signs of cancer. An outpatient lumpectomy – 45 minutes with twilight anesthesia – would treat that too.

“I’m so satisfied with Northwestern,” Mary said. “They are very thorough, and they explain what they’re doing. All the people that I worked with were very friendly and caring.”

After diagnosis, it was important to Mary that her care would allow her to maintain her everyday life, and she expressed as much to Lurie Cancer Center team members David R. Gius, MD, PhD, radiation oncologist, and Claudia Tellez, MD, a medical oncologist, when they evaluated her for radiation and medication, respectively. Ultimately, her care team did not recommend radiation, and because of her low risk for recurrence, they developed a plan that did not require medication, which freed Mary from any potential side effects.

This treatment plan allowed Mary to make a simple but strong assertion about how cancer would impact her everyday. Namely, that it wouldn’t: “I’m not letting it bother me,” Mary said. “I’m going to live the rest of my life in a calm and happy way.”

Her approach – and that of her care team – also allowed Mary to run the Shamrock Shuffle, one of Chicago’s most-loved races, less than two weeks after her surgery. A small part in her range of interests, running in the race was a nod to her good health, an indicator that she could resume her life with gusto.

Mary loves so many things about her life in Chicago. She loves the restaurants and the museums. She’s been to every Greek eatery in town and she’s been a docent at the Art Institute for nearly 20 years. She was a teacher for many years with Chicago Public Schools, which allowed her to combine her interest in art with her love of teaching. Every year, she would bring her students to the Art Institute to gather inspiration for a student-made mural. Before Chicago, she taught in Ohio during desegregation. Before that, Cuba. With her every step of the way was her husband, James, who passed away from a heart attack in November after 56 years of marriage. The two have a daughter, Debbie, who lives in California.

“I just really live an ordinary life,” said Mary. “Just a very happy life.” And with her surgery and the support of Northwestern Medicine, breast cancer won’t change that. With a customized care plan, informed by recent research that suggests less treatment may be more beneficial for certain patients, Mary can keep doing all the things she loves. Whether that’s getting involved with new projects, running when she wants or spending time with her many friends, Mary’s everyday is upbeat, active and happy.

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