Local Teacher Beats Breast Cancer

November 15, 2019
Ellen Kelley enjoys sitting outside in her garden.

Following an annual mammogram, Ellen Kelley, of Portland, was told she needed additional imaging. She went for a follow-up test and then a biopsy.

“I was scared, but I found the staff at Middlesex Health to be accommodating,” Kelley says. “They explained everything and were very reassuring. They described everything that they were doing. They were well trained to help you get through everything emotionally, and even though the biopsy wasn’t pleasant, they made me as comfortable as possible.”

Ultimately, Kelley was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Within a few days, I had an appointment with a breast surgeon and a medical oncologist,” Kelley says. “After these appointments, I left like somebody’s really going to take care of me. I had surgery within a few weeks then chemotherapy for 19 weeks.”

Chemotherapy was particularly challenging for Kelley. She did not have her normal energy and was able to take a leave of absence from her teaching job. She was relieved that didn’t have to work while she received treatment, and she had great support at home from her family.  

To help with some of the side effects of chemotherapy, Kelley’s physician recommended integrative medicine therapies, such as massage, Reiki and acupuncture. Because integrative medicine is not covered by insurance, Kelley, like all patients at Middlesex Health Cancer Center, was offered three free integrative medicine sessions. She signed up for several massages and had a great experience.

“I think integrative medicine is fabulous,” Kelley says. “The massages really helped, and my massage therapist was kind and respectful. I had become protective of the area where I’d had surgery and was favoring one side of my body. I didn’t realize how much tension this was creating, so much so that it was affecting my posture. Massage helped me relax, ease the tension and stress in my body and helped me feel more comfortable in my own skin.”

Kelley also valued the support of her nurse navigator, a nurse who helps patients through their care and treatment at Middlesex Health Cancer Center. The nurse navigator checked in throughout her chemotherapy treatment. “I had a lot of questions and stress, and she was able to spend time with me, explaining the next steps,” Kelley says. “It gave me reassurance that I was not alone in the experience.”

With her treatment now complete, Kelley has returned to teaching.

“Breast cancer is something you wouldn’t wish upon anyone else,” she says. “I took my good health for granted, and this diagnosis opened my eyes up to the fact that this is not a guarantee. I now appreciate simple, day-to-day things so much more. I am happier in my outlook every day. I didn’t realize how much I loved teaching until I couldn’t do it.”

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