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Sharon’s Story: The Benefits of Access to Mass General's Cancer Treatment

Kathleen Quinn, BSN, RN, OCN, Nurse Manager of Gynecology-Oncology at the Seacoast Cancer Center at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, says the program’s team is guided by one overriding principle: “Our patients are in the driver’s seat. We’re here to guide them every step of the way -- from initial evaluation, through treatment and follow-up care. We do whatever we can for our patients on an individualized, case-by-case basis, and this might mean an expedited referral to Massachusetts General Hospital for advanced surgical procedures. Quick turnaround times are our goal, because we believe that a patient’s peace of mind is a huge part of their care.”

For patient Sharon Hall, that peace of mind has made all the difference. Hall was diagnosed with early-stage endometrial cancer following a biopsy at Wentworth-Douglass. She met with Dr. Amy Bregar, a Mass General surgeon who is on-site in Dover on a weekly basis. Says Hall, “I am a procrastinator and I was scared. I was so wound up that I ended up cancelling three surgical dates. By the third time, I think Dr. Bregar would have personally driven me down to Mass General. I was in tears, and she said, ‘I want you to feel comfortable. Let’s re-schedule in two weeks.’ By then, I was packed and ready to get on the bus to Boston.”

Dr. Bregar works side-by-side with the Seacoast Cancer Center’s team of medical and radiation oncologists, nurse practitioners, and oncology nurses, offering patients local access to specialized care for gynecologic conditions, including cervical, endometrial, ovarian, and uterine cancer. Dr. Bregar also sees patients and performs surgeries at Mass General if necessary.

At Mass General, there are seven board-certified gynecologic oncologists, specialized gynecologic nurses, and pathologists who monitor every case.

“When I am performing surgery,” says Bregar, “nuance matters, and I want to be able to make split second adjustments while I’m in the operating room.

As a surgeon, being able to consult with colleagues and make decisions in real time during surgery is a huge benefit.”

Each case is automatically reviewed by radiation oncologists and pathologists. The recommendations for each patient’s treatment plan draw on this wealth of expertise. For Hall, what mattered most was the unexpected personalized care she experienced at this large metropolitan facility: “The nurses and doctors at Mass General were amazing. My blood pressure was sky-high when I got there, probably due to my nerves. Everyone was so kind, so reassuring. I breezed through the surgery and was up and walking the same day.”

Quinn says, “I am so proud to be a part of a program that offers specialized gynecology-oncology services for women, and part of a team that offers patients direct access to top gynecologic oncologists.” According to Bregar, “My favorite part of this job is working with the incredibly special patients here. They have access to treatments that are above and beyond what is typically expected in a community hospital setting. For example, I can facilitate participation in a clinical trial by assessing and matching a patient’s needs with available studies.”

Dr. Bregar performs surgeries in Dover or at Mass General, while everything else – diagnostics, radiology, imaging, post-op visits, follow-up chemotherapy and radiation treatment – is based at Wentworth-Douglass, maximizing the comfort and convenience of being close to home.

Quinn says, “We follow the same guidelines as Mass General – and this close tie-in benefits our patients and our entire medical team of oncologists, radiologists, and gynecologists. It also facilitates our close working relationship with our patients’ local gynecologists and primary care physicians.” Bregar agrees: “I can’t say enough about the team here. We work together seamlessly. We put the patient first. Patients here are given care that is absolutely comparable to Mass General. I simply could not do my job without this level of trust.”

The Seacoast Cancer Center surrounds patients with services that go beyond immediate diagnosis and treatment. “Our social workers are fantastic,” says Quinn: “A cancer diagnosis can be a very emotionally challenging situation, and we’re here to give extra support, education, and access to lifestyle resources such as nutrition counseling. I am so proud of our team on both a professional and personal level. I was born at this hospital, and was a Candy Striper here as a teenager. I’ve worked here for 26 years. This is my home.”

Hall is thrilled with the outcome of her surgery, and even more appreciative of the way she was treated at both Mass General and Wentworth-Douglass: “It’s the little things that mean the most. I am getting older, so when I had a chance to review my patient notes online and read the first line describing me as a ‘lovely, 63-year old woman’ -- I mean, wow! That just made such a difference for me. Surgeons are typically there for the diagnosis and the surgery, but Dr. Bregar and the entire team bent over backwards for me. I feel like I could tell her anything. She made me feel completely at ease, even at my worst. She’s the total package -- a highly skilled surgeon and a good, kind-hearted person.”

Hall now considers herself an advocate, urging women to get timely medical care and not procrastinate: “If I knew then what I know now, I would have never postponed my treatment. I have told three other people I know, do not wait. Keep that appointment. Get in there. Don’t do what I did. And, yes, I am happy to go with you.”

Gynecologic Cancer: What You Should Know

Each year in the United States, more than 100,000 women are diagnosed with gynecologic cancers. Gynecologic cancer starts in a woman’s reproductive organs. The most common diagnoses are:

  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Cervical Cancer
  • Endometrial Cancer
  • Uterine Cancer
  • Vaginal and Vulvar Cancer

While they are often discussed as a group, each gynecologic cancer has its own set of distinct symptoms and risk factors. Some possible symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, feeling full too quickly after eating, pelvic pain or pressure, bloating, and more frequent or urgent need to urinate, among others.

Since Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center Gynecologic Oncologist Dr. Amy Bregar joined Wentworth-Douglass in October 2018, she’s seen more than 100 new patients in the Gynecology-Oncology Program. The most common diagnosis the program has seen in the past year is endometrial cancer followed by pre-endometrial cancer, cervical dysplasia and ovarian cysts.

The Gynecology-Oncology Program, in coordination with the Mass General Cancer Center, has offered women on the Seacoast local access to expert specialized care for gynecologic cancers since 2010. At the heart of the program is offering women seamless access to the care they need, whether in Boston or locally at the Seacoast Cancer Center.

Learn more about the Gynecology-Oncology Program at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, or contact Kathleen Quinn, BSN, RN, OCN, Gynecology-Oncology Program Manager, at (603) 609-6024.

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