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"Breast Cancer Survivor Counts Her Blessings"


Melissa W. received her breast cancer diagnosis shortly before Christmas. The news came on the heels of the loss of her father-in-law to lung cancer. Her mother and mother-in-law had also battled cancer within the past several years. While another cancer diagnosis was hardly welcomed by her and her family, Melissa said the quick response, excellent medical care and compassionate treatment she received from Mercy made her experience much more tenable. Melissa’s OB/Gyn shared the initial diagnosis with her on Dec. 15 and referred her to a surgeon who was not available to see her until Dec. 30

"I couldn't face Christmas with this hanging over us," Melissa said. "The diagnosis had come as a bit of a shock - initially we just thought I had an infection. Once I heard 'cancer,' I needed to get more information and take the next steps right away. My mom called her surgeon, Dr. Candi Butler (Candilee Butler, MD) - this was on a Wednesday, and she agreed to see me on Friday. She sat me down and told me I had invasive non-differential ductal carcinoma and that it was an aggressive cancer but we’d caught it early. It was the same cancer my mom had been diagnosed with four years earlier. She recommended a single mastectomy, which she got scheduled for Dec. 22 at St. Anne. Dr. Butler was wonderful –she got me in quickly, she explained everything thoroughly, she made me feel at ease."

Melissa said her experience at St. Anne couldn’t have gone better.

"They were also great about working to get me scheduled for surgery as soon as possible and even get me home with my husband and my two daughters, ages 6 and 10, for Christmas Eve and Christmas," Melissa said. "And, I will never forget, right before surgery, just as they were about to put me under anesthesia, a nurse looked at me, and she could tell I was nervous – she said, ‘I was in your shoes two years ago - the same cancer, the same procedure, the same surgeon, and I want you to know that I know what you are going through and that we are going to take excellent care of you. Dr. Butler is wonderful, and I am living proof, two years out, that you are going to be OK.’ And then she gave me a big hug. It meant a lot to me that she took time to treat me as an individual and connect with me on that personal level. Everyone at St. Anne was very attentive and supportive."

Following surgery at St. Anne and a brief recovery period, Melissa began treatment with Medical Oncologist Adnan Al-khalili, MD, at the Mercy Cancer Center at St. Charles. Dr. Al-khalili had treated her father-in-law, who had passed away the previous July.

"My husband, Craig, came with me to my first visit with Dr. Al-khalili," Melissa said. "At that point, I felt so relieved to have the cancer out, and I was ready to do the chemo. Dr. Al-khalili did a wonderful job of explaining everything. But my husband, having so recently lost his father to cancer, was more apprehensive than I was. Dr. Al-khalili noticed this and asked Craig if he was OK and if he had any questions. Craig looked at him and said, 'I just need you to tell me she's going to be fine.'"

Melissa said Dr. Al-khalili did an excellent job of responding to Craig's concerns. "He explained that Craig's father's cancer had been different - it had been very advanced," Melissa said. "He told us, "I'm not God, and I can't predict the future, but in my medical opinion, I believe you are going to be sitting together one day telling your grandchildren your story." Instantly, you could see the relief on Craig's face. And, knowing he felt better, I felt better too."

Melissa began chemotherapy on Jan. 18 and completed a cycle every three weeks for a total of six cycles.

"Melissa, Lori, Molly - all of the nurses at the Cancer Center were great," Melissa said. "They have been there for me in every aspect- physically, mentally and emotionally, including giving me a pep talk when needed. There has never been any doubt that Mercy has been the right place for me. Throughout every aspect of my treatment, they have given me what I need."

Melissa is now undergoing a milder form of chemotherapy aimed at preventing a recurrence of her cancer. She will continue with treatments every three weeks until December. "After that, we will schedule my other mastectomy - again as a preventive measure - and begin reconstruction," Melissa said. "I will probably have my surgeries at St. Anne - I will definitely have them at a Mercy hospital. I wouldn't go anywhere else!"

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