Jessica D Caring For Their Own

My team at MMC showed me their professionalism and care

Thanks to swift action by Monmouth Medical Center staff, a longtime nurse is treated for breast cancer in the face of COVID-19.

As Monmouth Medical Center’s assistant clinical director, operating room, and a registered nurse for the past 12 years, Jessica D’Erasmo knows about taking care of others, but she is just as vigilant about her own health. So, when the coronavirus pandemic emerged this spring and threw a wrench into her plans to care for her recent breast cancer diagnosis, D’Erasmo was naturally concerned.

Flashback to seven years ago, when D’Erasmo and her sister, Jennifer, tested positive as carriers of the BRCA gene. That news came on the heels of the passings of their mother and aunt, both of whom passed away to ovarian cancer. Considered high-risk for developing cancer, D’Erasmo, who’s now 45, elected to undergo preventative hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. (Her sister also had preventative surgeries.) D’Erasmo followed up at MMC’s Jacqueline M. Wilentz Breast Center every six months before an MRI performed this past February showed “something suspicious,” she recalls. “I had the hysterectomy to lower my chances of developing ovarian cancer. This was scary—I never thought I would have breast cancer. But being in the high-risk program offered me options to take charge of my health that my mother did not have.”

According to Manpreet K. Kohli, M.D., director of breast surgery at MMC, she and Alexander King, M.D., the medical director of breast imaging for the Southern Region, “knew that this was likely a cancer.” Dr. Kohli gave the diagnosis on March 11—about the same time MMC and other area hospitals were seeing a surge of COVID-19 cases—and D’Erasmo met the next day with Gregory Greco, M.D., to plan a mastectomy and reconstruction. “We knew all of her interventions would need to take place quickly, or possibly not for several months until after the peak,” Dr. Kohli says. “There was a true sense of teamwork and unity to get the best possible care for her and as quickly as possible, especially since she is ‘one of our own.’

“We decided to change some things given the risks of operating in the COVID era, and planned to send her home the same day as mastectomies, in order to minimize her risk of exposure to COVID-19 that might be associated with an overnight stay,” Dr. Kohli adds, noting that special arrangements were made in the areas of nuclear medicine, anesthesia and recovery. “Jess was in the operating room less than a week from when I was on the phone with her discussing her cancer diagnosis. Thanks to this expeditious teamwork and everyone rallying behind a fellow colleague, she was home recovering with her family around her and safe from COVID exposure. Most importantly, she was granted an early stage diagnosis (stage I, invasive ductal carcinoma) and spared treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation. This is the goal of the high-risk program—early detection to potentially avoid more aggressive interventions and save lives.”

All departments at MMC followed and continue to adhere to strict guidelines in place to safeguard against the coronavirus, including perioperative testing of patients, ensuring all employees are appropriately screened and using rigorous sanitization methods. All staff is masked and wears personal protective equipment, while patients and visitors also must use a mask and practice appropriate hand hygiene.

D’Erasmo says she is thankful that MMC took immediate action to put a plan and team in place for her surgery that was expedited as hospitals across the state were canceling elective surgeries due to the pandemic. “My team at MMC showed me their professionalism and care,” she says. “I’m proud to work at this hospital and be part of the amazing perioperative team at MMC. I’m also thankful for my sister who was there for me every day.”