In 2009, during a routine mammogram, a small mass was discovered in Mary Elise Samson’s left breast. “I was surprised when they told me they found a lump,” recalled Mary Elise, a retired teacher living in Ste. Genevieve. “Because of its size and location, I couldn’t feel it during my self-exam.”
News No One Wants To Hear
Immediately after her mammogram, she was scheduled for a breast biopsy. “The results indicated that I had Stage I breast cancer,” Mary Elise said. She had surgery a few weeks later to remove the small mass.
Because her mother also had breast cancer, Mary Elise was familiar with the disease and wasn’t nervous as she began treatment. “Thirty years ago, my mother was diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer when she was 58 years old, which was about my age when I was diagnosed,” she recalled. “My mother had a total mastectomy and was treated with chemotherapy.”
After her diagnosis and surgery, Mary Elise was referred to Dr. Alan Lyss by her surgeon in Ste. Genevieve. Dr. Lyss is the endowed director of Cancer Research at Missouri Baptist Medical Center.
As part of MoBap's ongoing commitment to serving rural communities, Dr. Lyss travels twice a month to Ste. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital and said, “I’m very proud of our rural affiliations in Sullivan, Farmington and Ste. Genevieve.”
Through partnerships with hospitals in these communities, MoBap brings the same medical oncology, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and clinical trial access that the hospital offers at its main campus to patients living outside of the immediate St. Louis area.
“Patients don’t have to travel far from home to receive the high-quality cancer care associated with our National Cancer Institute-designated Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP),” Dr. Lyss explained. “We bring the latest diagnostic tools and treatment options right to them. It’s a real convenience and increases the value of their care.”
“When I met with Dr. Lyss, he put me at ease,” Mary Elise said. “We talked about different treatment options, and he told me about ongoing research studies and clinical trials for breast cancer that I might qualify for.”
Clinical Trial Participation
Through Heartland Cancer Research NCORP, Missouri Baptist Cancer Center participates in more than 75 National Cancer Institute (NCI) sponsored clinical trials. Cancer patients treated by MoBap physicians are screened to see if they can take part in any available trials.
The early stage of her breast cancer qualified Mary Elise to participate in the TAILORx (Trial Assigning IndividuaLized Options for Treatment [Rx]) clinical trial. According to the NCI, TAILORx studied the effects of chemotherapy on early-stage breast cancer with the hopes of sparing women chemotherapy if it was not likely to be of substantial benefit.
“I was categorized into the intermediate group of the trial,” Mary Elise explained. “I received hormone therapy to reduce my estrogen levels, as well as radiation.” The group to which she was assigned did not receive chemotherapy.
“I’m proud that we can offer clinical trial enrollment to Mary Elise and other patients in our rural communities,” Dr. Lyss said. “Trial participation is critical for advancing the standard of care and improving survival rates for the disease.”
Cancer Didn’t Slow Her Down
Mary Elise’s positive outlook propelled her through treatment. “I knew that the hormone therapy and radiation were something I had to go through, so that’s what I did,” she remembered.
Throughout her treatment, Mary Elise was also able to keep her volunteer commitments at the World Bird Sanctuary, where she helps band birds for migratory studies. “I completed my final radiation dose in time to attend the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena, California, and help handle the birds for the Sanctuary’s float,” she said.
After finishing radiation therapy, Mary Elise continued her hormone regimen for eight years before doctors determined that she could safely stop treatment.
Currently celebrating eight years in remission, Mary Elise is thankful for the care and services she received from Dr. Lyss and the MoBap team.
“Meeting Dr. Lyss and being able to take advantage of MoBap’s wide range of services and resources from my home in Ste. Genevieve influenced the course of my treatment,” she said. “I’m glad that my positive experience is part of the TAILORx clinical trial results.”