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Nancy S The Comfort of Camaraderie

“I truly felt as though I was leaving my friends behind. They are a great group of people, and I am blessed to have had them in my life.”

A Warm Welcome And The Latest Technology In Radiation Oncology Ease The Fear Of a Returning Breast Cancer Patient.

Nancy Scardillo breathed a sigh of relief when she completed radiation treatment in 2013. Her breast cancer experience over, Nancy returned to her busy life. The respite, however, was short-lived: A routine mammogram detected a mass in the other breast just four years later.

“I was much more frightened the second time around,” admits Nancy, 65, of Toms River. “It was such a fear of the unknown.” She took comfort from her radiation team at the J. Phillip Citta Regional Cancer Center at Community Medical Center (CMC), who had treated her cancer the first time around. “They welcomed me back with open arms. It was like returning home to family.”

Nancy’s first diagnosis in the left breast was ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a non-invasive breast cancer considered Stage 0. She had a lumpectomy with a local breast surgeon and received radiation treatment at the J. Phillip Citta Regional Cancer Center at CMC. “Nancy had radiation therapy every day, five days a week for six-and-a-half weeks,” says her radiation oncologist Rajesh V. Iyer, MD, Chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology. “That was a standard treatment in 2013. She followed up with me every six months afterward and was doing well.”

Return To CMC

In the summer of 2017, Nancy’s regular mammogram revealed a mass in the right breast. This one, though detected early, was more invasive than the previous cancer. Diagnosed as Stage 1, it was recommended that Nancy have a lumpectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

Nancy underwent surgery and then received chemotherapy at a satellite of a large New York cancer center. She opted to return to the J. Phillip Citta Regional Cancer Center for radiation treatment. “Community has saved my life in the past,” says Nancy, who experienced a brain aneurysm in 2012 and credits neurosurgeon Richard Hartwell, MD, with her diagnosis. “It felt right that I should return there to finish cancer treatment.”

Nancy becomes emotional when she recalls her return to the Radiation Oncology Department, renovated since her previous visits. “It’s important how a medical setting makes you feel when you’re vulnerable, especially when you’re going through something as serious as cancer. I liked that the waiting area felt welcoming and comfortable, like someone’s living room. Everyone in the office treats me with kindness and respect. I’m ‘Nancy,’ not just another patient,” she says of the front desk staff whose camaraderie put her at ease.

Same Team. New Technology

Naturally, Nancy wishes she had not experienced cancer a second time, but she was grateful to be in trusted hands. Dr. Iyer says the timing was perfect from a technology standpoint. His department had just installed the Varian TruBeam Radiotherapy System, designed to deliver more powerful cancer treatment with pinpoint accuracy, speed and greater patient comfort.

“The TruBeam uses Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) and Image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT), two technologies that allow us to precisely target tumor cells,” explains Dr. Iyer. “Treatments are not only more targeted, but much shorter. What used to take 20 minutes can now be done in five to 10.” Dr. Iyer notes that the J. Phillip Citta Regional Cancer Center has identical technology to that of larger cancer institutes. “There’s no reason for patients to travel when they can experience the same quality of care here, closer to home,” he says.

Nancy has the utmost respect for Dr. Iyer. “He doesn’t sugarcoat or offer false promises, but really listens and makes me feel I can ask him anything,” she says. In addition to Dr. Iyer’s advice, Nancy was educated by a radiation oncology nurse who explained treatment expectations. “We provide a holistic approach here,” explains Dr. Iyer. “We have our own social worker in the department and have access to nutritional counseling and support services if needed.”

Encouragement And Support

A spiritual person, Nancy says prayer gave her the strength to persevere during cancer treatment. She also credits her radiation technologists, Laurie and Kim, who she calls her “coaches.” According to Nancy, “My strong faith, Dr. Iyer and his team were what got me through each day. They were encouraging, supportive and had such compassion.” Nancy was relieved to put her cancer journey behind her as she began 2018 cancer-free following treatment. She says she was sad, though, to say goodbye to her team. “I truly felt as though I was leaving my friends behind. They are a great group of people, and I am blessed to have had them in my life.”