“A new year, a new life” for survivor of cancer discovered by screening

February 08, 2017 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
If you’re wondering about getting that screening mammogram your doctor recommended, Mary Grier’s story may convince you. Grier, a 56-year-old wife, mother and grandmother from Melrose Park, is also a survivor of breast cancer discovered last year during a routine mammogram. 

Every December, Grier gets a reminder from Elmhurst Hospital to schedule her routine mammogram. Last year, Grier tucked it aside to deal with her mother’s ailing health from colon cancer that spread to the liver. Then in January, tragedy struck when both her mother and brother passed away on the same day.

It wasn’t until Feb. 26 when Grier went for her screening mammogram — a routine appointment that became critical to her health.

Shortly after the mammogram, Grier was told she needed to return for more testing. After an ultrasound guided biopsy of her right breast, the results indicated a form of breast cancer called infiltrating ductal carcinoma, stage IIB.

With no family history of breast cancer and no prior symptoms, Grier was devastated. She had just been through the loss of both her mother and brother, and she couldn’t help but think, ‘I’m next.’

Grier met with medical oncologist Amaryllis Gil, M.D. Still reeling from the diagnosis, Grier said she couldn’t take in anything Dr. Gil was saying at first. 

“I stopped her and said, ‘All I want to know is am I living or dying?’ She turned to me and said, ‘Baby, you’ve got a long life to live,’” reflects Grier. From that point on, Grier says she calmed down and was able to listen.

That March, Grier had a right breast lumpectomy and sentinel lymph node biopsy with breast surgical oncologist Christine Gresik, M.D.at Elmhurst Hospital. “Dr. Gresik went into so much detail about the surgery. I never had a doctor go into such detail. It was exactly what I needed,” she says.  

Based on an individualized profile of her tumor genetics, Dr. Gil then recommended adjuvant chemotherapy, which Grier began in May. She also met with radiation oncologist Andy Su, M.D. and completed whole breast radiation therapy in the fall.

In the midst of her cancer treatment, Grier’s daughter, pregnant for the first time, was in a car accident caused by a drunk driver and tragically lost the baby. Grier found herself going back and forth from her daughter’s rehabilitation center to her own cancer treatments. 

“The staff at Elmhurst was there for me through all of it. As soon as I walked into the building, I’d start crying. The receptionist Bernadette would say ‘Mary, just cry. This is a safe zone. Just let everything out, honey,’” says Grier. “The attitude was ‘Whatever you need, just ask. We’ll find a way do it.’”

Grier, who also suffers from multiple sclerosis (MS) for the past 10 years, says her Elmhurst doctors were able to stay on top of her MS throughout cancer treatment as well.

“All of my doctors were excellent. They never sugarcoated anything, which is what I needed,” she says. “Every visit, I had a list of questions. They actually took the time to answer every one. Even if I called or asked through MyChart, I always got a response.”

She says the staff has also been helping her get a handle on her medical bills. “The hospital doesn’t get on you if you don’t pay the bills right away – they don’t hound you. It’s one less thing that I have to worry about. They are more concerned with your health and getting you the right treatment than your money,” says Grier.

Grier finished treatment on Dec. 8 and is now being monitored through a survivorship care plan. 

Of her experience, she says: “The people at Edward-Elmhurst really care for you. They were so kind and helpful, and so nice to me. It makes a difference. Other hospitals are very cold. This place is truly a blessing. I tell people, go to Elmhurst. No hospital is perfect, but this place is close to it.”

Today, Grier is focused on being a survivor. She enjoys going to craft shows with her sisters and crocheting. In an effort to give back, she has been knitting hats to donate to other cancer patients at the hospital, and she’s also thinking about volunteering.

When it comes to screenings, Grier says: “Don’t put it off. Make sure you get screened, whether you have a family history or not. And follow up if you find out you need more tests.”

Today, she is grateful for time with her family, including her husband, daughter, son and 3-year-old granddaughter named Madison Nicole, who she calls her ‘little angel.’

“This year, I feel renewed. I always tell people I’m blessed. I get up in the morning. I can breathe. I have a different outlook on life. I’m a survivor. It’s going to be a great year,” she says. 

Grier now keeps a diary that she writes one sentence in each day. Her first entry reads: ‘A new year, a new life.’ Indeed it is.

Learn more about breast health at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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