Maureen Herrmann of Trumbull never could
have imagined bringing bouquets of flowers
cut from her award-winning garden to an oncologist’s
office—let alone her oncologist’s office.
But in spring 2007, all that changed when she discovered
a lump in her left breast. An ultrasound revealed a large,
The next step was a breast biopsy to test the lump and
surrounding breast tissue for cancer cells. Maureen was
referred to Mary Pronovost, MD, Medical Director of
Bridgeport Hospital’s Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center.
Dr. Pronovost used a special needle to remove a small
amount of tissue from Maureen’s breast. Bridgeport
Hospital’s pathologists examined the tissue under a
microscope and confirmed what the doctor suspected.
“Maureen had metaplastic carcinoma. It is a type of
invasive cancer which can grow rapidly within the
breast,” says Dr. Pronovost. “We see these in fewer than
two percent of breast cancer patients.”
Dr. Pronovost called Maureen at home to gently tell her
the devastating news. “I only remember bits and pieces
of that conversation, her telling me, ‘I’m so sorry, it’s
malignant…it’s a more aggressive cancer,’” says Maureen.
“But I can recall how touched I was by her compassion.”
Maureen and her husband, Tim, met with Dr. Pronovost
to discuss a course of treatment. A lumpectomy (surgery
to remove breast tissue) was recommended as a first step,
followed by chemotherapy (medication) and radiation.
That’s when Maureen met with medical oncologist Neal
Fischbach, MD, to discuss chemotherapy options.
Tim recalls, “The day of the appointment,
Maureen walked into the office and started
crying. What was I supposed to do with
that? And this was just the beginning.”
“The nurse who led me into the
examination room gave me just
what I needed—a big hug,” says
Maureen. “To this day, I can still
feel her reassurance and understanding.
I can still feel how
much she cared about me.”
Soon after that appointment, in
May 2007, Maureen underwent
her first breast surgery—a lumpectomy.
“During surgery, it was evident
that the cancer had spread to
Maureen’s sentinel lymph node,” says Dr.
Pronovost. “If cancer is found in the sentinel
lymph node, it is usually a sign that the cancer
has spread to other lymph nodes.” Dr. Pronovost removed
the tumor, 11 lymph nodes and some surrounding
breast tissue. She also inserted a small port through which
Maureen’s chemotherapy would be administered later on.
Final pathology results from the surgery revealed that
Maureen’s rare cancer had not spread to any other lymph
nodes, but there were features that raised concern about
residual cancer in the breast.
As is true for every breast cancer patient at Bridgeport
Hospital, Maureen’s treatment plan was discussed by
members of Bridgeport Hospital’s Breast Cancer Tumor
Conference. This multidisciplinary team of breast specialists
including pathologists, surgeons, radiologists, radiation
oncologists, medical oncologists and plastic surgeons meets
regularly to review all newly diagnosed patients and develop
a coordinated plan of care. Based on the group’s expertise,
Dr. Pronovost recommended removal of Maureen’s left
breast (a mastectomy) after completing chemotherapy.
“Chemotherapy after surgery is generally recommended
when there is a significant chance of recurrence,” says Dr.
Fischbach. “Because Maureen had an aggressive cancer,
we discussed the options and thought chemotherapy
before surgery was the best next step for her.”
Maureen was working at an elementary school. She
timed her chemotherapy to begin in mid-June so her hairwouldn’t fall out until school was in recess for
the summer. By July 4, her hair was gone,
but her sense of humor and positive
outlook were intact.
“Losing your hair can be traumatic,
but I chose to have fun with the
various hats I wore, and I chose
to be grateful that I didn’t have
to shave my legs all summer,” she
“Overall, I managed chemotherapy
very well by combining
conventional medicine with nutrition,
lots of prayer and utilizing
many of the services offered at The
Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center,”
she says. Maureen attended workshops,
counseling and a support group at the Center.
“Joining the support group for women undergoing
treatment for breast cancer was the best decision
I ever made.”
During treatment, Maureen also elected to participate in
a clinical trial at Bridgeport Hospital that was investigating
potential treatments for mouth sores that can be a side
effect of chemotherapy. “For several months, the research
nurse visited and called Maureen at home to closely monitor sores in her mouth,” says Bridgeport Hospital
Research Coordinator Diane Eannotti, RN, CCRC.
|Mammogram, Ultrasound and Self-Exam
“Every woman 40 and older should have an annual
mammogram,” says Gynecologist Robert Deal,
MD. “Also, keep in mind that many women under
the age of 50 have dense breast tissue. Sometimes
dense tissue can camouflage a mass so well that a
mammogram can’t detect it.” For these women,
ultrasound is a very useful diagnostic tool.
Maureen also emphasizes the value of breast selfexams.
“Today I tell my two teenage daughters—and
all women I know—that their lives are worth the one
minute a day it takes to do an exam so their story
doesn’t turn out like mine,” she says.
Dr. Fischbach adds, “Major advances in cancer care are
built on the strength and determination of people like
Maureen who, while living with cancer, are willing to
participate in clinical trials.”
With the summer’s flowers fading into fall, and
Maureen’s mastectomy looming, she made a choice that
surprised her physicians. “Although my doctors told
me that the chances of cancer developing in my other
breast were very low, I made the painstaking decision
to remove both breasts (bilateral mastectomy),” says
Maureen. “I already had this rare cancer and I thought,
if it does spread to the other breast at some point, I don’t
want to have to go through surgery again. I couldn’t face
the emotional roller coaster I would have to get on every
morning, wondering, always wondering.”
In October 2007, Maureen triumphed through a
bilateral mastectomy with Dr. Pronovost and breast
reconstruction with Anke Ott Young, MD, PhD, from
the section of the plastic and reconstructive surgery at
Maureen thought that was the end of her cancer story.
She never guessed she would be hurled onto another roller
coaster just nine months later.
In July 2008, Maureen met with Gynecologist Robert
Deal, MD, to talk about a heavy menstrual period that
had been ongoing for 16 days. “He did a biopsy and an
intra-vaginal ultrasound in the office,” she remembers.
“The biopsy came back negative, but the ultrasound
showed some polyps (small growths) within my uterus.
Polyps could have been the reason for my unusual bleeding.
We discussed my options for having them removed, and
I requested a D&C.”
“Dilation and Curettage—or D&C—is a very common
gynecologic surgical procedure. It can help diagnose
the reasons behind unexplained vaginal bleeding,” says
Dr. Deal. As a standard part of this procedure, the
physician takes tissue samples from the uterus for testing.
Maureen chose to have the procedure done at Bridgeport
Hospital. “My instincts were telling me not to take any
chances and to be thorough in getting to the bottom
of this,” she says.
Samples were quickly examined by the hospital pathologists.
Maureen got another call. Tests revealed it was
“I was not prepared for this,” she remembers. “I was
actually starting to feel like myself again. I liked my new
short curly brown hair and had just returned to gardening.
Then everything changed. I was absolutely devastated.”
Because of Maureen’s age and the stage of her cancer,
Bridgeport Hospital Chief of Gynecologic Oncology
Masoud Azodi, MD, and Dr. Deal recommended a radical hysterectomy (surgery to remove her uterus,
cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes and part of her vagina). They chose to use the da Vinci “S” robot-assisted
minimally invasive surgery system.
Compared to traditional open surgery, minimally invasive
surgery provides excellent, if not better, access to the
tiny areas of that region of the body,” says
Dr. Azodi. “Most women who undergo this surgery
have less blood loss during surgery, a shorter hospital
stay, less scarring, significantly less post-operative pain
and a quicker recovery.”
The reality of a cervical cancer diagnosis on the heels of her
breast cancer treatment was more than Maureen could
bear. “I was physically, emotionally and psychologically at
rock bottom, and I realized this was all too much for me
to contend with alone,” she says. “Although I knew The
Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center was for breast
patients, it was the only place I thought to run to. They had
become like family to me and I knew I could talk to an
oncology social worker about how I was feeling.”
In total, Maureen had eight cancer-related surgeries in two
years. “As difficult as it was, each time I went to the
hospital for treatment or surgery, I was reminded again
that there are a lot of people—from the front desk staff to
the transporters to the clinical team—who are not simply
working there, but who care deeply about patients,” she
says. “Every nurse was kind and funny, and seemed to
read instinctually what I needed before a surgery, which
was usually humor!”
Maureen had her last reconstructive surgery this past
summer. While she was waiting in the pre-op area, Donna Twist, PhD, Executive Director of The Norma F. Pfriem
Breast Care Center, paid her a surprise visit. “Donna
came down for a few minutes before I went in to surgery
just to give me a hug and a kiss,” Maureen remembers.
“With all that she had going on that day, to take those
few minutes was kind and so meaningful to me. It’s the
little things like that that makes me toot the horn
for Bridgeport Hospital.”
|Celebrating 10 Years
A decade of healing. A decade of
hope. For 10 years, The Norma F.
Pfriem Breast Care Center, part
of The Norma F. Pfriem Cancer
Institute, has served thousands of
women and their families.
When the Fairfield Center opened,
it was the first free-standing breast
care center in Connecticut, with a breast surgeon
and support services on site.
Today, with one phone call, women can gain
access to a full spectrum of services, including
screening and diagnostic procedures, breast
surgery and reconstruction, chemotherapy and
radiation therapy, appointments with physicians,
prosthesis/wig fittings, massage therapy, nutrition
counseling, one-on-one and group therapy and
For information about The Norma F. Pfriem
Breast Care Center, with locations at 111
Beach Road, Fairfield, and at Bridgeport
Hospital, please call 203-255-5300 or visit
Dr. Ott Young performed the final reconstruction and
Dr. Pronovost assisted. “For me, to have Anke and Mary
in the same room for the final piece of my reconstruction,
the very place where I began this journey two years
prior, made me so happy,” says Maureen. “I truly felt a
sense of closure.”
The best news of all came at the end of September. “I am
most happy about the latest PET/CAT scan I had,”
says Maureen. “‘Everything looks perfect, just perfect,’ is
how Neal put it. That brought me and my family a sense
Since then, Maureen has finally felt the strength to garden
again. “It was as if I were holding my breath for two
years, afraid to enjoy one of my greatest pleasures. Now
I can exhale again,” she says. “In getting things ready
for winter, I think I’ve done more gardening these last
few weeks than I have in the last two years.”
Come next spring and summer, her flowers will grow
back and she will arrange them into bouquets again.
“I want to revel in how far I’ve come and how I feel,”
Maureen says, smiling. “Because of the expertise of
my doctors and the team at Bridgeport Hospital, I’m
okay—I’m more than okay!”
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