Mary Ann Smith - a Bad Fall Turns Out to be a Lucky Break

Mary Ann Smith - a Bad Fall Turns Out to be a Lucky Break

Tripping on a crack in the sidewalk turned out to be a lifesaving experience for Mary Ann Smith – even if was rather painful! She broke a rib and was covered with bruises and bumps, including an especially large swelling under her breast, which she assumed was a clot from her fall.  When the swelling didn’t go down after three weeks, Mary Ann went in for a mammogram, just in case. What she thought would be a routine assessment turned out to be anything but. Based on the mammogram, her doctor ordered an immediate sonogram, which revealed a large mass. It turned out to be lobular carcinoma – breast cancer.  Because this type of cancer looks very much like breast tissue, it can be hard to find.  The tumor was the size of a tennis ball – so large, doctors were amazed it had not metastasized to her lymph nodes.

Mary Ann was referred to MarinHealth Cancer Care (formerly Marin General Hospital Cancer Institute) for treatment. She knew MarinHealth Medical Center (formerly Marin General Hospital) had an excellent cancer program. What’s more, Mary Ann had delivered all four of her kids at MarinHealth Medical Center, and her experience had been overwhelmingly positive. As she puts it, “Every single delivery was an incredible experience. I felt I knew what to expect.” The care she received turned out to exceed even her best expectations.

Treatment began with chemotherapy to shrink the tumor as much as possible before surgery. The tumor responded well, shrinking down to the size of a fingernail. At that point, Mary Ann’s medical oncologist Dr. Peter Eisenberg gave her the option of a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. She did not hesitate. “My mom died of cancer when I was 18 and she was 41,” says Mary Ann. “It made me sad for a very long time. So, I was determined not to let my family go through what I went through.” She chose to have a mastectomy. It proved to be the right decision: surgery revealed that the cancer had spread to her nipple.

Mary Ann has nothing but good things to say about her treatment team and the care she received at the Marin Cancer Institute. “Right down to the anesthesiologist, they are all so good at what they do—and they so obviously love doing it,” she said. “They made me feel safe; they made me feel comfortable.” Mary Ann was also grateful for the advice she got from the clinical social worker from the Medical Center's Integrative Wellness Center, who gave her valuable pointers how to discuss her cancer with her children. MarinHealth offers a wide range of integrative services and therapies to assist patients in coping with treatment and healing mind, body and soul. 

Throughout her treatment, Mary Ann received a complete continuum of care at MarinHealth. Chemotherapy was followed by radiation. As treatment progressed, Dr. Eisenberg continued to meet regularly with Mary Ann and her husband to answer questions and make sure they understood exactly what to expect, every step of the way. Mary Ann was touched by Dr. Eisenberg’s support and involvement, “It sounds funny to say, but he was very uplifting. My husband went with me every time and Dr. Eisenberg would somehow always make us feel good.” Dr. Eisenberg would always call after the meetings, to make sure there was no confusion about anything he had said. Everyone in his office was helpful and proactive, working closely with her insurance company to make sure she got the tests she needed and getting other medical offices to squeeze her in on short notice.

A year after her mastectomy, Mary Ann went back to MarinHealth Medical Center for breast reconstruction using advanced oncoplastic surgery techniques. “It’s amazing how you get back to a normal life,” says Mary Ann. “Sometimes I feel like, did that really happen? It was like a dream,” she said. “But then I realize that it took the help of all those people to get me through it. If you have to go through something like this, to have people like that along the way is just incredible. They really are doing what they are meant to be doing.”

Today, Mary Ann is happy, healthy, and enjoying her family and the outdoors. Her favorite “healing place” aside from MarinHealth, of course, is the beach.

This story was first published in December, 2016.