“We do everything together,” says Orland Hills resident Mary Pat Morajda, 68, about her family. Their closeness took on new meaning in early 2009. Mary Pat and her youngest sister, Elaine, were on a cruise ship headed for Cozumel, Mexico, when Mary Pat felt a small lump in her breast while showering. When they got home, she had a mammogram at Little Company of Mary Hospital. Results suggested the lump might be cancer. A biopsy confirmed it.
Someone to Lean On
Mary Pat called her other sister, Janet Terra, 66, of Lockport, to share the news, not knowing that Janet’s most recent mammogram had revealed a small lump. Just an hour after Mary Pat called, Janet got the results of her biopsy: also breast cancer.
Mary Pat and Janet began breast cancer treatment as a team at Little Company of Mary. Janet knew they would be in good hands there: She retired from the hospital in 2009 after 44 years as a pediatric nurse. “I knew that we’d be taken care of there,” says Janet, “and that we’d help each other.”
“We were great pals during the whole thing,” adds Mary Pat.
A New Type of Radiation
For both sisters, treatment meant radiation plus the surgical removal of the lumps. Olga Ivanov, M.D., a breast surgeon at Little Company of Mary, did the surgery. She offered them the chance to have a new type of radiation treatment called intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) as part of a research study directed by Dr. Ivanov and her colleague Adam Dickler, M.D., that concluded in 2009.
“With IORT, we radiate the area around the lump after removing it but before closing the incision,” Dr. Ivanov explains. “It gives women the same effective dose of radiation in one 20-minute session as they would get in six weeks of daily radiation therapy after surgery.”
Initial results suggest IORT works as well as daily radiation for women whose cancer is found early. It’s also much more convenient for patients. “It was great not to have to return frequently for radiation, since mine was completed right after my surgery,” says Janet.
“I hope this technology fires up more women to get screened so we can detect their cancer earlier when it’s easier to treat,” says Dr. Ivanov.
Mary Pat and Janet return for mammograms every six months to check their conditions. Both appear cancer-free now. “I feel blessed,” says Janet. “We’ve both done very well.”