Margaret A Exceptional Surgical Team Guides Woman Through Her Breast Cancer

"They have an outstanding group of compassionate professionals.”

Learning you have breast cancer can upend your world. That was certainly the case for Margaret Ames, Chief Nursing Officer and Vice President of Patient Services at Jersey City Medical Center. She found out about her cancer in November 2020 after what she expected would be a routine mammogram. “I got the diagnosis the week before Thanksgiving,” she recalls.

The holidays abruptly turned somber as Margaret began exploring treatment options. But she didn’t become overwhelmed. “I tend to emote in a very rational way, so I began my process of, ‘What’s the next step, and how do I get it taken care of?’” she says. She and her husband, Scott Ames, MD, a transplant surgeon, didn’t have to ponder where to turn for answers. As an employee at RWJBarnabas Health (RWJBH), Margaret knew its deep expertise in breast cancer.

“I had several excellent doctors,” Margaret says. Among them were board-certified internal medicine physician and medical oncologist Seth Cohen, MD, Regional Director of Oncology Services for the RWJBarnabas Health Southern Region; board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon Gregory A. Greco, DO, Chief of Plastic Surgery and General Surgery Residency Program Director at Monmouth Medical Center (MMC); plastic surgeon Negin Griffith, MD; and board-certified and fellowship-trained breast surgeon Manpreet K. Kohli, MD, Director of Breast Surgery at MMC. “They were a team I felt particularly connected to,” Margaret says. “They approached everything quite scientifically, which gives a nurse like me some comfort.” Through MMC’s partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, patients have access to advanced treatment options including novel clinical trials, if needed.

She also took comfort in MMC’s achieving Magnet recognition for nursing excellence. “Magnet is a data-driven designation where a nursing team passes national benchmarks in a variety of indicators,” Margaret says. “I have complete confidence and comfort when the Monmouth nursing team, led by MMC Chief Nursing Officer Diann Johnston, is taking care of me.”

Momentous Decision

Margaret met with Dr. Kohli shortly after her diagnosis and discussed her specific type of breast cancer. Called invasive ductal carcinoma, “it had a very high growth rate,” Dr. Kohli says. Margaret also had a troubling family history of not only breast cancer but also pancreatic and prostate cancers.

Dr. Kohli described what lay ahead, referencing Margaret’s own imaging results, making diagrams to share with her husband and going into detail about aspects such as the tumor’s characteristics and size, and tests that investigated factors such as specific hormone receptors.

The cancer was solely in Margaret’s right breast and very treatable. But Margaret didn’t have much time to decide what type of surgery to have. “I could have had a lumpectomy or a single mastectomy,” she says. “But I chose, at 56 years old, to have a double mastectomy. That was the approach I felt most comforted by.”

Strong Comeback

On December 2, 2020, Dr. Kohli performed the double mastectomy at MMC to remove both of Margaret’s breasts. Dr. Greco placed expanders that would save space within the remaining chest tissue for a subsequent reconstructive surgery in which the expanders would be swapped for implants.

Tumor testing indicated Margaret would benefit from chemotherapy, which she underwent over a 20-week period at MMC’s Infusion Center. She lost her hair, eyebrows and lashes, and often felt nauseated or fatigued, but received unflagging support from Dr. Cohen and the Infusion Center’s staff. “The nurses, the pharmacy team and my own reading helped me understand how to mitigate side effects,” she says.

Margaret has been impressing on other women the importance of regular mammograms. She’s back to working full days and often heads to the gym afterwards. Exercise may lower her risk of recurrence, she says. “As much as I sometimes don’t feel like going to the gym, I’m going anyway!” she says. Her workouts recently gave her extra stamina to tour Berlin, Dresden and Prague with her husband and brother.

She credits MMC and RWJBH for helping her through her cancer journey. “I’ve already referred several patients and would have complete confidence with anybody getting care there,” she says. “They have an outstanding group of compassionate professionals.”

Acclaimed Breast Health Services

The Jacqueline M. Wilentz Comprehensive Breast Center at Monmouth Medical Center is one of just two in the state recognized as Certified Quality Breast Centers of Excellence, the highest certification awarded by the National Quality Measures for Breast Centers program.

Other honors include being named a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology’s Commission on Quality and Safety and the Commission on Breast Imaging, and becoming the first center in Ocean and Monmouth counties to receive a three-year full accreditation designation from the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers.

A team of board-certified surgeons, all specialists in breast surgery, is equipped to perform advanced procedures such as scar-reducing and nipple-preserving mastectomies. Patients also benefit from a range of additional services:

  • Care from a multidisciplinary panel of breast cancer experts such as breast and reconstructive surgeons, oncologists and radiologists
  • The latest screening and diagnostic imaging technologies
  • Advanced techniques that deliver radiation to breast cancer while minimizing exposure to surrounding organs and tissues
  • A Breast Cancer High Risk Program that assesses factors such as genetics
  • Access to clinical trials and research
  • Licensed clinical social workers who lead support groups, provide counseling and connect patients and families to community resources
  • Patient navigators to guide patients and families through the health care system and access social services

To make an appointment at the Jacqueline M. Wilentz Comprehensive Breast Center at Monmouth Medical Center, call 732-923-7700.