For someone with no family history of breast cancer and no major risk factors for the disease, Mary Ann Perkins has certainly had plenty of experience with it.
Her first brush with breast cancer was in April of 2005, when the results of a digital mammogram showed suspicious findings. Fortunately, because Mary Ann, now 52, had been vigilant about preventive screenings, the lobular cancer in her right breast was detected early.
A friend referred her to Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla surgeon Mary Wilde, MD, who specializes in breast disease. After reviewing Mary Ann’s charts and tests, Dr. Wilde recommended a lumpectomy to remove the tumor, followed by MammoSite therapy, which delivers radiation only to the affected area of the breast and allows for shorter radiation treatment periods.
Dr. Wilde placed the MammoSite device—a small balloon attached to a catheter—into the empty cavity in Mary Ann’s breast where her tumor had been. The balloon was then inflated and filled with a saline solution.
Mary Ann received twice-daily treatments for five days; during each session, a radioactive seed was placed into the balloon through the tube, where it remained for several minutes and was then removed. After the final treatment, the MammoSite balloon was deflated and removed. She tried having an implant placed in the breast following the MammoSite treatment, but didn’t like it.
“It was small, but it felt gigantic,” Mary Ann recalls. “It just didn’t feel right, and I had it removed.”
All seemed well…until 2008.
“I had been having mammograms every six months or so,” recalls Mary Ann. “In April of 2008, I went in for one and it came back perfect, but Dr. Wilde recommended an MRI since I’d had breast cancer before.”
It was a good call—the MRI scan showed cancer, this time in the milk ducts of Mary Ann’s left breast.
After a partial mastectomy and seven weeks of radiation, Mary Ann was again cancer-free and doing well.
Because this type of cancer has a 25 to 50 percent chance of recurring, her Scripps team is keeping close tabs on her. And while Mary Ann is hoping to avoid another bout with breast cancer, she feels it was a positive experience.
“It was inconvenient, but I was never really in pain. The care was great and the doctors were fantastic,” she says. “When I went through radiation, being in there every day for seven weeks you become friends with everyone in there — doctors, hospital staff and other patients as well.”
“I’ve heard people say before that when they’ve had cancer it became one of their best periods of their life, and I’ve wondered how they could say that,” she continues. “But you realize how many people in your life care about you, and how many people really want you to do well and provide the care and support to make that happen.”