There is never a good time to learn you have breast cancer, but for Mary Conchieri, she said it was the “worst possible time.”
“I went for my routine mammogram and they found a lump,” said Conchieri of Feeding Hills, who has a family history of breast cancer.
“Still, I was shocked when my primary care doctor called to tell me. It was 7 p.m. at night when he called. He was so thoughtful and didn’t want me to hear the news from a stranger,” she added about Dr. Gary Jacobson of Baystate Primary Care – Feeding Hills.
A donor dilemma
But Conchieri, 63, had a greater worry than her breast cancer.
“My son, Sean, who is 37, was dealing with end-stage kidney disease and was desperate for a kidney, which I was due to give him. I was going through pre-testing at Baystate Medical Center, then everything stopped. The news was devastating. My heart was broken, and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to give my son my kidney,” she said.
The Baystate Living Donor Transplant Team works very closely with potential donors like Conchieri. When they learned she had a positive cancer screening result, the program’s nurse coordinator informed her that she would need to be cared for and cleared for surgery prior to any further transplant evaluation. Baystate’s Transplant Program follows the American Cancer Screening guidelines for early cancer detection and adheres strictly to their recommendations.
“When I first met with my surgeon, Dr. Holly Mason, I took her by surprise. I told her right off that my son needed a kidney and that I needed to be able to donate mine to him. She looked at me and said, ‘Then we know what to do,’” said Conchieri.
Confidence in her surgeon
“Right from the start I had so much confidence in Dr. Mason. She put me at ease and made me feel all would be okay. And it eventually was thanks to her,” she added.
Dr. Mason noted she understood the importance to Conchieri of being able to donate a kidney to her son.
“This was an incredibly complex and unfortunate situation, however, the fact that Mary was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma ‘in situ’ cancer, which means that the cancer cells are trapped within the wall of the duct and therefore contained, gave us a glimmer of hope. If she had been diagnosed with invasive cancer, in which the cancer cells had broken out through the wall of the duct into the surrounding breast tissue, she would no longer be able to donate her kidney as she would require active cancer treatment,” said Dr. Mason.
Making a Plan
Her first step once the visit with Conchieri was completed was to contact Baystate’s Transplant Program to discuss the situation. In discussions with the transplant team, a plan was developed to proceed with surgery to prove that there were no areas of cancer cell breakout. Once this was done, she would be considered free of cancer and could then proceed with donation.
The results of her lumpectomy showed that Conchieri only had “in situ” breast cancer and that it had all been removed. She proceeded with radiation treatments as part of a breast conservation treatment strategy. Once radiation was done, she was considered to have completed her treatment plan, and she was now able to proceed with the kidney donation.
“This is a success story which highlights the benefit of routine screening mammography, which allowed Mary’s cancer to be caught in its earliest form so that treatment could be limited, providing a speedy recovery and an excellent long-term outlook,” said Dr. Mason.
In general, if the area of ductal carcinoma in situ is small in size, it can be treated with a lumpectomy and radiation. If it is larger in size so that performing a lumpectomy to remove it all would be deforming, if a patient desires to avoid radiation, or a patient prefers to remove the breast, a mastectomy could be performed accompanied by breast reconstruction if the patient wishes.
“The good thing about ductal carcinoma in situ is that you do not need to take medication to treat it. Once it is removed, it is gone. For many patients with this, there is also an option to take an anti-hormone pill to prevent future breast cancer formation,” said Dr. Mason.
After explaining to Conchieri the treatment options for her breast cancer, she chose a lumpectomy followed by a month of radiation therapy.
The news was good
“I told Dr. Mason, ‘Let’s move things along,’ and she did,” she said.
Once Dr. Mason and the Transplant Team had discussed the situation, Dr. Mason’s office was able to quickly get surgery scheduled.
“I had surgery on April 14 shortly after my biopsy at the end of March, and was in and out of the hospital the same day. When Dr. Mason came in to speak with me after the surgery, she told me everything looked good and the x-ray of the specimen indicated that they had taken out the needed tissue to remove the cancer. I was very lucky and did not need chemotherapy, but instead would undergo a month of radiation which I finished on July 6,” said Conchieri.
Radiation is given after a lumpectomy to help prevent recurrence.
A successful transplant
“I have a great son…..and I’m not just saying that….he is a school teacher and an exceptional human being. He took himself out of the picture and was only concerned about my health and recovering from the cancer, not his need for a kidney,” said Conchieri.
But that day, for the transplant, finally did come on Oct. 11 after a lengthy detour.
“I am very relieved and feel at peace now. Sean is doing wonderful and the kidney started working right away,” said Conchieri.
“My mom has given me life twice. She is the best person I know,” said a grateful and emotional Sean.
A grateful patient
Now that the transplant surgery is complete, Conchieri is a candidate for anti-hormone treatment, such as tamoxifen, to prevent future breast cancer.
Conchieri said she is forever grateful to Dr. Mason.
“Dr. Mason helped me tremendously and I can’t thank her enough for the phone calls she made with the Transplant Team. She got us through a very dark and scary time. If it wasn’t for her and working closely with them, I might have been prevented from giving my kidney to Sean,” said Conchieri.
Learn more about breast cancer treatment at Baystate Health.