Professional dancer overcomes breast cancer thanks in part to early detection from a routine mammogram

Meghan’s first ever mammogram at Lawrence Memorial Hospital of Medford most likely saved her life.

Scheduled during the holiday season in December 2017, the 41-year-old mother and professional dancer almost postponed the appointment. Cancer was the last thing on her mind, but she decided to go ahead and check it off her list.

Two mammograms and one biopsy later, Meghan was diagnosed with DCIS, stage zero breast cancer, an early form of breast cancer.

“Everyone told me I was lucky, but I didn’t feel like it,” she recalls. “I thought, how did I get here? I was healthy and didn’t have any history or symptoms. I did all the things I was supposed to do.”

Meghan’s prognosis was good, and she immediately started treatment with Dr. Salvatore Nardello, medical director at MelroseWakefield Breast Health Center in Stoneham. Dr. Nardello is one of two fellowship-trained breast surgeons at the center and part of a team of professionals who are dedicated to ensuring women receive the best possible medical treatment in a supportive environment.

“I treat people not cancer,” said Dr. Nardello. “When treating Meghan, a lot of the aspects of her care were around her love of dance and being a mom.”

Woman dancing on stage.

Meghan dancing on stage.
Photo credit: Carly Vanderhayden

Dr. Nardello performed two lumpectomies at MelroseWakefield Hospital, but Meghan’s test results showed that the disease still was present.

Through a multidisciplinary partnership with Tufts Medical Center, Dr. Nardello met with Abhishek Chatterjee, MD, an oncoplastic surgeon, to review Meghan’s case, and together they recommended a mastectomy to ensure that all the cancerous cells could be removed.

Meghan had a second opinion at a leading Boston cancer care institute to explore her options, but she said “I came right back to Stoneham. I got the same treatment plan and recommendations [in Boston], but the care didn’t feel as personal. Dr. Nardello and everyone in Stoneham treat me like family. They always have time for me. That’s huge because when you’re going through this situation you really need support.”

Confident in her care, Meghan had a skin-sparing mastectomy at Tufts Medical Center with Dr. Nardello and Dr. Chaterjee. The special combined procedure removes the tumor and begins the breast reconstruction process in the same surgery, which preserves more of the breast skin, avoids large, unsightly scars and allows better reconstruction results.

“Although Meghan required a mastectomy, we are very progressive with breast conservation. A mastectomy with a big scar isn’t what we do. All our patients right here in the community have access to this level of care,” Dr. Nardello explained.

The mastectomy successfully removed all the cancerous cells, and Meghan did not require chemotherapy.

“The mammogram saved Meghan’s life,” said Dr. Nardello. “Some guidelines don’t recommend a mammogram for someone as young as her, but at the center, we recommend a yearly 3D mammogram beginning at age 40, which we offer here in the community. It is truly the best way to detect the disease early and make it much easier to treat,” said Dr. Nardello.

Statistics show that Meghan is not alone in facing breast cancer at an early age. The American Cancer Institute estimates that more than 26,000 women in the United States under the age of 45, the age annual mammograms are recommended, are diagnosed with the disease every year.

MelroseWakefield Healthcare offers the latest 3D mammography technology at five convenient locations in Medford, Melrose, Reading and Stoneham.

a patient stands with her clinical care team

Meghan with her care team

Today, just over a year after her reconstruction surgery, Meghan is living cancer free and has returned to her dance career. Along with support from her care team and family, she credits dance for helping her cope with the ups and downs of cancer.

“My studies in dance, yoga, and mind-body practices gave me the resiliency and strength I didn’t know I had,” she said.

Meghan is using dance to help other women. She plans to open a local chapter of the Moving for Life dance program for women with breast cancer. She is also a mentor for others going through breast cancer.

“I’m doing great. I didn’t feel lucky at the time, but I do now,” she said. “What if I had waited a year to get my mammogram, or five or ten?”