Breast Cancer Awareness 2020: Janice LeBel: Don’t let pandemic derail medical care

Courtesy photoJanice LeBel of Salem is a health professional and breast cancer patient. She recommends vigilance and feels gratitude as she battles breast cancer for a second time.

Name: Janice LeBel 

Age: 62

Hometown: Salem

Background: Recently widowed psychologist, works in public mental health. Pursuits include yoga, biking, skiing and trying to keep up with her 5-pound Yorkshire terrier, Maddie, who thinks she is a German shepherd.

Breast cancer diagnosis: In 2004, in right breast; in July, in left breast.

Experience: In 2004, after a mammogram, LeBel underwent surgeries and radiation treatment. She took Tamoxifen and was monitored closely at Danvers Breast Health Center and then MelroseWakefield Breast Health Center, where her physicians moved.

This January, her team saw a suspicious area on a mammogram. She returned in July in the midst of COVID-19, when a biopsy identified cancer in the other breast, which was confirmed the first week in August.

She underwent surgery for invasive ductile breast cancer and a partial mastectomy, and she is now mapping out her next steps, which are expected to include radiation and medication.

LeBel said she is thankful for her surgeon and medical team’s relentless curiosity and courage, especially during COVID-19 and the risks it poses to patients and providers.

“They didn’t let COVID stop good health care practices,” she said. “I am facing invasive breast cancer. It is a different type and had they postponed, it would have resulted in a totally different outcome.”

LeBel said she was impressed with how her medical team properly navigated distancing and mask protocols imposed by the coronavirus, yet provided warm, kind and caring treatment and support.

“That is what I appreciated,” she said.

What she discovered: “Some patients and health care providers have reverted to a hard pause during COVID, choosing to delay or stagger health care or to move to a telehealth model. Telehealth, alone, does not work for breast health,” she said. “I was blessed having Dr. Salvatore Nardello, medical director and surgeon at MelroseWakefield Breast Health Center. The team went above and beyond in such an unusual time. I am so grateful.”

What she wants people to know: “I think it is essential that people pay attention to their health, to their breast health, and not ignore routine checkups or mammograms. And to continue to pay attention to their care by following up with providers.” 

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