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MaryEllen’s Journey: Hope Returns (Final Episode)

February 1, 2011

The moment finally came. 

But it was an uneasy one at first.

MaryEllen Sheppard was about to receive her last round of chemotherapy at Mayo Clinic, with friends and family by her side. But as her loved ones and her nurses cheered her on, a wave of emotion hit this mom with nerves of steel.

What will life be like after these medical appointments end?, was one of the questions MaryEllen wondered about as tears streamed down her cheeks. 

In this final installment of MaryEllen’s Journey, MaryEllen shares how she was feeling during those last chemotherapy and radiation appointments and visits with Mayo again post-treatment to share what she did to get her life back on track.

We truly thank MaryEllen for giving Mayo Clinic’s video crew open access to her  life to share her story and experiences with others going through a breast cancer diagnosis. It was a privilege getting to know her and help her share her story with you all.

Missed an episode?:

Please click on the following to see MaryEllen’s journey from the beginning:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Dr Northfelt on Mayo Clinic’s Cancer Center team

MaryEllen on why she enrolled in a clinical trial

MaryEllen reacts to genetic counseling session

Bonus: Dr Northfelt on the importance of nutrition and fitness

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MaryEllen’s Journey: Searching For Genetic Clues (Episode 4)

November 24, 2010

From the moment MaryEllen Sheppard was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, she wondered how she developed cancer.

Her ancestors, she said, tended to live long, healthy lives.

And other than a cousin, she wasn’t aware of anyone else in her family who had breast cancer.

As her battle against the disease began, MaryEllen’s thoughts also turned to her sisters, nieces, daughter and granddaughter who was on the way. Could they be at risk too?

In late March, MaryEllen and her sister Eileen met with Mayo Clinic’s genetic counselor Katherine Hunt to find out if genetics could have played a role in her diagnosis and get a better idea of how at risk her female relatives are.

The following video shows excerpts from MaryEllen’s actual counseling session with Katherine Hunt.

And watch the bonus footage of MaryEllen sharing her thoughts on her genetic counseling session and the procedure she needed to insert a port for her remaining chemotherapy sessions.

Missed an episode?

Please click on the following  to see MaryEllen’s journey from the beginning:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Dr Northfelt on Mayo Clinic’s Cancer Center team

MaryEllen on why she enrolled in a clinical trial

As always, please feel free to post a comment about the series or a message to MaryEllen after each episode.

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MaryEllen’s Journey: Coping with a New Reality (Episode 3)

October 18, 2010

When you last saw MaryEllen Sheppard in Episode 2, she spoke about how she was beginning to lose her hair. 

After two rounds of chemotherapy, MaryEllen said  she was beginning to lose clumps at a time. She knew the day was coming.  But the awkwardness of going bald wasn’t what was engulfing her. As her husband Chuck began to shave her head as the Melissa Etheridge song “I Run For Life” was playing in the background, the loss of hair was making the cancer diagnosis hit home even harder.

“…From the very core of me came these emotions – something about all the women, the daughters, the mothers, the grandmothers that are now going through breast cancer and have to go through chemo and then have to go through the loss of hair and potentially the loss of life – it just got to me,” recalled MaryEllen. “The tears just flowed.”

In this latest installment of Mayo Clinic’s multi-part video series, MaryEllen and her sister Eileen speak about the hair loss and  how a breast cancer diagnosis impacts a family.

Below is bonus footage of MaryEllen discussing why she decided to enroll in a clinical trial at Mayo Clinic.

Click here if you missed Episode 1

As always, please feel free to post a comment about the series or leave a message for MaryEllen after each episode.

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Celebrating a 5-year milestone after breast cancer diagnosis

October 12, 2010

Pansy Parker of Goodyear, Ariz., has been celebrating her cancer-free “five-year-mark” with a little partying and a lot of faith.

“I just thank God so much for the five-year benchmark,” said the ebullient 73-year-old, who threw a party and invited her Mayo treatment team to celebrate her five-year survivorship.

“For patients, the five-year mark is an important landmark,” said Dr. Richard J. Gray, a surgical oncologist at Mayo Clinic in Arizona and Associate Medical Director of the Breast Clinic. “The longer you go without any evidence of cancer, the better the prognosis.” 

In May 2005, a mammogram at another hospital detected a tumor in Pansy’s left breast. “I had been doing self-examinations. I don’t know how I missed it,” Pansy said. She sought a second opinion at Mayo with Dr. Donald Northfelt, an oncologist and co- Director of the Breast Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

Pansy had “heard a lot of good talk” about Mayo, a reputation borne out by her subsequent experience even though, initially, the news was bad.

A tumor two inches in diameter was growing in her left breast. The exact diagnosis was infiltrating (invasive) ductal carcinoma. The cancer had spread to five lymph nodes in the left armpit.

“The unique or key thing about her cancer was that it overexpressed the HER-2 protein, that is a marker that indicates a very aggressive cancer,” Dr. Northfelt explained.

“She had a higher-risk cancer than the average patient,” Dr. Gray said. However, he added, “she’s an extraordinary woman and even facing this diagnosis and treatment, exuded faith and confidence and a positive attitude that was really remarkable.”

Dr. Gray and Pansy discussed her treatment options in mid-2005 and agreed that the tumor was too large for a lumpectomy. Chemotherapy before surgery to shrink the tumor and then a lumpectomy, were considered. However, Pansy decided on a mastectomy. She would also undergo six weeks of radiation therapy and multiple-drug chemotherapy.

The chemotherapy included a year’s treatment with a relatively new drug, Trastuzumab, which Mayo had a hand in testing. Also known by the trade name, Herceptin, it “dramatically improves the outlook for women with this type of cancer,” Dr. Northfelt said.

Dr. Edith A. Perez of Mayo in Jacksonville, FL, had led a large nationwide study examining Herceptin. Dr. Perez “reported in 2005 that Herceptin with chemotherapy given to women like Pansy, could dramatically reduce her risk of relapse,” Dr. Northfelt said.

“At Mayo Clinic we remain constantly engaged in the search for better treatments through clinical trials,” Dr Northfelt  added.

Dr. Gray recalls how “positive she (Pansy) was through the whole process and how she really celebrated every step of her treatment and saw it as an accomplishment.”

Pansy expressed high praise for the Mayo team. “They have the best doctors. The care was right on time. I never had to sit around and wait for anything, including meals. They were right there to ask you what you needed.”

Reaching out to other women, as a presenter at seminars, has made her stronger.

“So many people have sickness, but it doesn’t take them out,” she says. “I don’t know whether or not it will return, but I have faith in God if it does return, I want to be prepared to accept it.”

Below is a video featuring Pansy Parker and her treatment at Mayo Clinic in Arizona

 Pansy’s story was written by freelance writer, Jim Merritt.

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MaryEllen’s Journey: Chemotherapy Begins (Episode 2)

October 11, 2010

Like many women facing breast cancer, MaryEllen Sheppard had concerns over how she would feel after her chemotherapy treatments. 

Would she be able to go to work?

Would the chemotherapy leave her feeling ill and exhausted?

How long would it be until she inevitably lost her hair?

When you last saw MaryEllen in Episode 1,  she began her treatment for her triple negative breast cancer diagnosis at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

In this latest installment of Mayo’s multi-part  video series, MaryEllen will fill you in on how she felt after two rounds of chemotherapy and if the experience was what she expected.

You will also meet key members of  MaryEllen’s treatment team. Oncologist Donald Northfelt, M.D., associate medical director of the Breast Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, will share what triple negative breast cancer is and what MaryEllen is facing.  And you also will meet Nancy Ledoyen, RN, operations manager of hematology/oncology, who will explain what chemotherapy is and how it has advanced over the years.

Below is the bonus footage of Dr. Northfelt discussing what makes treatment at Mayo Clinic unique.

As always, please feel free to post a comment about the series or a message to MaryEllen after each episode.

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MaryEllen’s Journey – A 5-part breast cancer video series (Episode 1)

October 1, 2010

MaryEllen Sheppard knew something was wrong as soon as she felt a thickened patch of skin on her right breast.  She didn’t feel a lump, but knew the change was different enough to get it checked out.  A mammogram and subsequent biopsy caught her by surprise.

She had breast cancer.

Looking  to share her experience with other women coping with this disease, the 53-year-old mom (and new grandmother) from Tempe, Arizona, allowed a video crew from Mayo Clinic in Arizona to follow her on her journey.

MaryEllen  let the cameras roll during her medical appointments at Mayo Clinic.  Along the way she openly chronicles what it feels like to undergo chemotherapy and describes  how the medical treatments and medications affected her daily life.  She also lets viewers inside her genetic counseling session where she sought to find out if her triple negative breast cancer was inherited and the likelihood if she could ever genetically pass the risk of cancer on to her daughter and new granddaughter.

As this five-part series unfolds, MaryEllen also reveals her views on having to make herself a priority in her family, how she dealt  with losing her hair, how she overcame her fear of  a recurrence and how she takes care of herself now.

In this first episode, you’ll meet MaryEllen at her home as she recalls her reaction to her diagnosis and the fears that came with it.  

We hope you’ll follow MaryEllen’s videos  throughout October and early November on the Sharing Mayo Clinic blog and we encourage you to post your comments on the series or post a message to MaryEllen after each new episode airs.

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A Patient’s “PAL”

August 6, 2010

Mayo Clinic patient Sharon Klemm enjoys some cuddle time with Murphy

Let’s face it, it’s never fun going to the doctor.

But for some patients coming in to receive radiation at Mayo Clinic’s Phoenix campus, sitting in the waiting room just got a little more relaxing, thanks to a furry, four-legged Mayo Clinic ambassador named Murphy.

“I think Murphy helps people forget they have cancer.  He is such a sweet, loving and gentle dog and people feel that immediately from him,” says Phil Whitton, manager of Radiation Oncology at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

Murphy is part of a pilot program called Pets are Loving Support (PALS) that’s being tested at Mayo’s Phoenix campus.  Since February, this white Bichon-Poodle and his handler, Mayo employee Kellye Wagner, have been delighting patients as they make their rounds in the waiting area of the Mayo Clinic Specialty Building (MCSB).

“I will let him take the lead and he will make his rounds and greet,” said Wagner, of Murphy who appears to enjoy snuggling up to patients and entertaining them with an array of tricks including hi-fives.

Wagner, a quality improvement specialist, said she always knew there was something special about her loveable, mellow dog. “He has been calm in all environments since he was a pup. I knew I wanted to do something with him,” said Wagner, who took the advice of Murphy’s obedience trainer that he’d be a great therapy dog.

After the cute canine completed a year of obedience training, Wagner, along with Murphy’s trainer, began six months of animal assisted activities and therapy training with two-year-old Murphy.  Murphy and Kellye became certified last fall for animal assisted activities and therapy through the Delta Society, a non-profit organization that trains, screens and certifies volunteers and their pets so they can visit patients in a number of facilities including hospitals, hospice, therapy centers and nursing homes.

“I think pet therapy is so important for our patients.  Murphy seems to take away some of their stress by giving patients a nice distraction while they wait for their appointment. He really brings a smile to people’s faces,” said Whitton, who helped Wagner get the PALs program started at Mayo earlier this year. Wagner said her managers were also receptive to the idea of her volunteering some time (on her lunch hour) taking Murphy to see patients a few times a week.

Murphy seems to have an innate sense of which patients seem to need his attention most, said Wagner, recalling a time when a patient got teary-eyed when Murphy laid beside him on the loveseat he was sitting on and nudged his head under the patient’s hand.

“The patient said he was having such a hard day and was so touched by Murphy that it made his day,” said Wagner. 

She also remembers another patient encounter where a man, who suffered a stroke and was now battling cancer, broke into a smile when he saw Murphy. The patient pet Murphy and spent some time with him before his appointment.  “It really touched his (the patient’s) wife that he was so happy,” said Wagner.

Wagner said she’s seen patients and their family members react to Murphy in different ways. “Some want to play with him, pet him, snuggle or hold him. Some even want to take their picture with him,” said Wagner, adding her dog often evokes positive memories for patients who like to talk about their own pets or pets they had growing up.

And it’s not  just patients who enjoy seeing Murphy.

 “In radiation oncology, Murphy is known as their mascot,” said Wagner.  “They will ask when he is coming in next so they can have some ‘Murphy time’ as well.”

 “It’s as if he knows he has a job to do today,” said Whitton, “And that job is to brighten someone’s day.”

This story was written by Julie Janovsky-Mason, a communications consultant at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

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