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Breast Cancer Survivors: “The care you need right here at home.”

Two patients inspired by physicians, staff at CVPH and FitzPatrick Cancer Center

Beating the toughest opponent they had ever faced, two North Country women are praising their physicians and care teams at CVPH and the FitzPatrick Cancer (FCC) center for saving their lives.

Lisa McGinn and Chris Bigelow are connected by friendship and their battles with cancer. They received the same diagnosis just months apart: a rare form of invasive cancer known as mucinous carcinoma of the breast. In each case, the cancer was caught during a routine mammogram. Bigelow and McGinn say that early detection was a big reason why they won the fight of their lives.

Even with early detection, the two retired teachers had many questions and concerns, and they said they were quite impressed with the attention to detail from Radiation Oncologist Anthony Vaccaro, MD and Kathryn Giroux, MD.

A PERSONALIZED TOUCH

“Dr. Giroux was so good about this. I was just blown away by the time she was willing to spend with me,” Bigelow recalled. “Early on, there was one appointment where she sat with me for an hour and 15 minutes, answering all these questions I had.”

Kathryn Giroux, MD

McGinn brought up an appointment where Dr. Giroux discussed why the cancer was considered invasive, helping ease some of her initial fears.

“She put up her hand as if to say, ‘Let’s slow down for a second.’ And then she actually said, ‘Let me show you.’ And she showed me how tiny the cancer was, and explained what made it invasive. And that communication helped me understand and made me feel better,” McGinn recounted.

Personalized care from Dr. Vaccaro also stood out to both women.

“He was fantastic,” McGinn said.

With COVID-19 spreading, there was talk about whether she should delay her treatment. McGinn was already looking forward to plans for the summer that included traveling, spending time outdoors and hopefully being with her grandchildren.

Anthony Vaccaro, MD

“I wanted it over with so I could enjoy my summer. I just wanted it behind me. And he understood,” McGinn continued.

 For Bigelow, it was Dr. Vaccaro’s memory that surprised her.

“Dr. Vaccaro took care of my father. And when I first saw him, I said, ‘You look exactly like you did 20 years ago.’ He said my dad’s name, clearly remembering him and me and then called him such a gentleman. So he really just personalizes things. He makes you feel very important,” Bigelow remembered.

In addition to the physicians, Bigelow and McGinn also credited the entire cancer center team for being by their side every step of the way. The retired teachers praised the upbeat nature and warm greetings from the front desk staff, helping ease the anxiety they felt when arriving for appointments and treatments.

PAYING IT FORWARD

McGinn and Bigelow were so inspired by the care they received at the FCC that they wanted to pay it forward.

“I think going there every day like we did, we saw the need and also realized how lucky we were,” McGinn offered.

The two cancer survivors decided to hold a get together at McGinn’s home along Chazy Lake and started inviting everyone they could think of, including family, friends, neighbors, former colleagues and fellow book club members. They made flyers that their lake association president helped distribute, prepared hors d’oeuvres and secured a few donated items to be raffled off. And the pair made sure everyone in attendance followed COVID-19 safety guidelines. Both Bigelow and McGinn said that while putting the event together was hard work, it was not as difficult as they had expected, and it turned out to be well worth their effort.

“I think people were just so excited to be together,” Bigelow remembered. “And they felt good that they were helping a great cause, and that just made us feel absolutely wonderful.”

COMFORT DURING CANCER CARE

The hosts went into the gathering of friends and family hoping to raise a few hundred dollars. When all was said and done, they had received $4,670, including checks that came in before and after the event. In September, McGinn and Bigelow were proud to present their gift to The Foundation, which they agreed could be used to purchase a new medical grade reclining chair for the FCC’s Infusion Center. The new chair promotes patient comfort and staff safety, including power height and reclining position adjustments that provide more comfort for the patient while significantly reducing back strain for nurses. It also features ultra-comfortable layered foam seating and a USB port for patients to plug in their electronics to help pass the time during treatment. And it can accommodate any type of treatment or procedure that occurs in the Center, providing flexibility as to where patients can be stationed.

Bigelow reflected on how meaningful it was for her and McGinn to be able to give back in this way, saying, “I just am overwhelmed at how much we were able to do. It was very rewarding, and I’m so glad that we were able to help with something that’s going to impact patients who come to the FitzPatrick Cancer Center for years to come.”