What seemed like a simple decision at the time may have ended up saving Melissa Shirtcliff’s life.
For Melissa, keeping up with annual medical appointments such as physicals and mammograms was never an issue.
With her 2020 mammogram scheduled for early March, just as businesses were closing down and social interaction was being limited amid COVID-19 concerns, Melissa thought about re-scheduling her mammogram, wondering about the safety of visiting a medical facility during a pandemic.
“I had some anxiety and hesitation about my appointment. I didn’t have any risk factors or history of breast cancer, so I thought ‘why not put it off until the pandemic is over?’”
“I finally made the decision to move ahead and get it taken care of,” she said. “This wasn’t like a trip to go shopping or to the salon. In my mind, if there is any place that understands viruses and will make sure that things are safe and clean, it would be a doctors’ office or hospital.”
Melissa had her scheduled mammogram at MelroseWakefield Hospital Imaging Services in Melrose.
Later that day, Melissa received a phone call from the mammography team, letting her know that they saw something on the mammogram and wanted to run some further tests at the MelroseWakefield Breast Health Center in Stoneham.
Following a second mammogram and ultrasound, Melissa met with a nurse navigator to discuss what they saw and the next steps they wanted her to take, including meeting with surgical breast oncologist Dr. Salvatore Nardello, at the MelroseWakefield Breast Health Center, to discuss her mammogram results and recommendations for a breast biopsy.
A biopsy a few days later confirmed the diagnosis. “I thought ‘this can’t be right,’” said Melissa. “Things like this don’t happen to me.”
Dr. Nardello met with Melissa on the day of her diagnosis. “It was clear that given her young age and type of breast cancer she had, that she needed immediate attention,” he said. “Melissa’s decision to move forward with her initial mammogram, quite possibly saved her life.”
“Over the course of two months during the pandemic, I made nearly a dozen trips into physician offices or hospitals,” said Melissa. “Sure, I was a little scared, but I had confidence in the staff, the nurses and the doctors, that I would be safe with them. I was aware of the steps the facilities were taking to keep patients, staff and visitors safe…with masks, chairs separated in waiting areas and constant hand sanitizing – and that meant a lot.”
According to Dr. Nardello, the pandemic has kept many patients from undergoing routine mammograms, colonoscopies, and cervical cancer screening. “These important diagnostic screening tests save lives,” he said. “Across the country we recently started seeing patients presenting with more advanced cancers that most likely would have been detected a few months earlier. These delays can lead to a later stage at diagnosis and potentially poorer prognosis. As the coronavirus surge has ended, it is so important to refocus on your routine health care.”
Through a multidisciplinary partnership with Tufts Medical Center, Dr. Nardello met with Abhishek Chatterjee, MD, a surgical breast oncologist and plastic surgeon, to review Melissa’s care. After a comprehensive review and discussion with Melissa, they made the decision to move forward with Melissa’s surgery at Tufts Medical Center in mid-May.
The surgery was successful and soon after, Melissa was declared cancer free. “I am so appreciative of the care I received,” said Melissa. “I had a great team looking after me. They were so supportive and helpful in getting me through this at such a difficult time in the world.”
“The hospitals have done a great job of caring for patients who need routine healthcare while also caring for patients who have COVID-19. MelroseWakefield Healthcare has worked tirelessly with leading health experts on ways to mitigate the spread of the virus while keeping all patients, visitors, and staff safe,” said Dr. Nardello. “I can’t stress enough how important it is for people with known risk factors to maintain their routinely scheduled appointments. Your doctor’s offices are taking extra precautions to keep you safe and ensure you are getting the critically important care you need, even during the these times. If you have questions or concerns, call your physician’s office and ask how they are providing safe appointments. Most importantly, be happy, healthy and safe, and please don’t delay your care.”