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Breast cancer patient grateful for “one-of-a-kind” care at Massey

Oct 28, 2021

image_of_beth_tetrault Beth Tetrault

Beth Tetrault knew she had dense breast tissue that put her at a higher risk for breast cancer, which is why she never missed her annual mammogram.

But when she received a follow-up call in January 2021 about abnormal results, Tetrault was not prepared for her eventual diagnosis with a form of early-stage breast cancer known as invasive lobular carcinoma.

“It was a shock to me,” Tetrault said. “It was definitely like somebody had just hit me over the head, and I was scared.”

Cancer had been a familiar and unnerving occurrence in her life around that time. Her father previously died from a gallbladder tumor, and two of her friends had also recently passed away from cancer.

After being diagnosed at the age of 63, Tetrault, a Hanover resident, had surgery to remove the tumor on April 1, realizing the timing of her procedure was slightly comical.

“I thought, ‘Let’s not have any jokes in the operating room please,’” she said with a laugh.

After her surgery, Tetrault was referred to VCU Massey Cancer Center, where her radiation oncologist was Alfredo Urdaneta, M.D. She called Urdaneta a “one-of-a-kind doctor,” with a considerate and comforting attitude and a listening ear. She also said Urdaneta cares about her as a person, as opposed to just a patient.

Urdaneta maintains that it is vital to treat patients beyond their disease by understanding all of the fears and emotions that accompany their diagnosis.

“Besides figuring out how we’re going to deal with the cancer clinically, it’s so important that patients know they have another human being by their side who shares their hopes and fears, wants the best for them and will treat them as they would a family member,” Urdaneta said. “At Massey, we strive not only to deliver the most advanced treatments for cancer, but we prioritize compassionate care.”

Tetrault is no stranger to the medical environment. She lives with type 2 diabetes and also had a brain surgery five years ago at VCU Health for a separate medical issue.

“I’ve seen lots of doctors; I’ve had lots of conditions. You always want a fantastic doctor who is really highly skilled, but that does not always happen,” Tetrault said. “It really was serendipitous that I was referred to Dr. Urdaneta. I did tell him this, but I don’t think he believed me that he is my favorite doctor, even though I’ve only seen him a few times.”

She also met with Bridget Quinn, M.D., Ph.D., a chief resident in radiation oncology who explained things very thoroughly and demonstrated on her own hand what a radiation marker tattoo would look like.

A CT scan indicated that brachytherapy — a form of internal, targeted radiation — was not going to be an effective treatment option for Tetrault. She called this a blessing in disguise because then she didn’t have to make any decisions about which treatment she would prefer.

In May, she began receiving radiation therapy five days a week at Massey’s Hanover Medical Park location, undergoing 16 radiation sessions and four supplemental boost doses before finishing up in June. Her birthday is June 8, and although it wasn’t the ideal place to be on her birthday, Tetrault said it was still nice to have it acknowledged by Massey’s nursing staff, who played a birthday song for her.

In addition to a robust physical and emotional support system of friends and family, Tetrault credited the staff support at Massey — from the receptionists to the nurses to the radiation therapists — as a significant player in helping her cope with her diagnosis and treatment.

In mid-July, she had her first follow-up appointment with Urdaneta since completing her treatment, where she was told she was cancer-free. Tetrault will take an oral hormone therapy for the next five years to reduce her risk of disease recurrence.

Tetrault said the COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the challenges of having cancer. People with cancer have a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and Tetrault got vaccinated as soon as she could. But she admitted she is still fearful of the virus and takes all precautions that she can, including wearing a mask whenever she is indoors.

“I would certainly encourage everyone to get a vaccine to protect themselves, to protect their family and to protect the rest of us in the community,” Tetrault said. “My real fear is that unvaccinated people will incubate a mutant strain and make the vaccines ineffective for those who have been vaccinated.”

The pandemic also initiated a physical separation between Tetrault and her siblings, which added yet another hurdle along the emotional journey of dealing with her disease. She has an older sister who lives in Newport News and a younger brother who lives in New York City. Tetrault saw them both in March 2020 and didn’t see them again until May 2021.

Looking forward, Tetrault hopes to put cancer and COVID-19 in the rearview mirror and see more of her family, friends and the country. Having returned to a weekly routine of yoga, she hopes to rebuild the muscle mass she lost during her treatment so that she’s able to do day hikes along the Appalachian Trail. Tetrault also wants to visit more states, starting with Maine.

In the meantime, Tetrault stresses the importance for others to stay up-to-date on their doctor’s appointments and mammograms.

“The earlier they catch something, the better your chances are for a positive outcome,” she said. “If it happened to me again, I would go to Massey first and get all of my treatment there because I think it’s probably easier to receive coordinated care if you’re under one umbrella.”


Written by: Blake Belden

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