April 12, 2022

The Value of Collaboration in Cancer Care: One Woman’s Story

Fall River, MA – When Rehoboth resident Bethann Bouley enrolled in a new health insurance plan in early 2021, one of her primary care doctor’s first recommendations was to undergo a screening mammogram.

Although Bethann, 48, had a history of benign breast calcium deposits called microcalcifications, she had not had a mammogram in several years. Her 2021 mammogram at the Stoico/FirstFed Center for Breast Care at Saint Anne’s Hospital showed a suspicious spot, and a follow-up biopsy revealed that she had stage 1 breast cancer.

Bethann was referred for a surgical consultation with Dr. Jennifer Gass, chief of surgery in the Women & Infants' Program in Women's Oncology, in Providence, RI, who also maintains a practice on the Prima CARE campus in Fall River as part of a unique collaboration with Saint Anne’s Hospital. The collaboration with Women & Infants Hospital brings comprehensive women’s health care to the Fall River community for benign breast disease, breast cancer, breast surgery, as well as gynecologic oncology. The program supplements the care offered through Saint Anne's Hospital Regional Cancer Center, a comprehensive community-based cancer care program that offers a range of treatments, including medical treatment and radiation therapy.

Together, Dr. Gass, fellow Women & Infants experts, and a team of providers from Saint Anne’s involved in Bethann’s care met to discuss her diagnosis and collaborate on a plan of care.

Creating the best care plan

These meetings, known as tumor boards, are held regularly to allow all members of the patient’s team to formulate the best plan of care.

Dr. Gass explains, “The best cancer care is a collaboration between distinct medical specialties, also known as interdisciplinary. This requires all members of the treatment team to come together and agree on the best tailored plan.

“During these meetings, at which new cancer patients receiving care have their cancer and history presented, the members of the tumor board come to a unified recommendation of the best treatment plan for each patient,” she continues.

Dr. Gass explains, “The tumor board panel includes not only physicians from surgery, medical oncology, radiation oncology, radiology, and pathology, but also expertise from psychosocial work, cancer genetics, patient navigation, and cancer research. We reference national treatment guidelines and review each patient's case for local and national trial research eligibility. Patients are then presented with the tumor board recommendation and treatment options. In this manner, we strive to do our very best to put each patient at the center of their cancer care.”

Coordinated, reassuring care, close to home

For Bethann, her care plan included a lumpectomy to remove the cancer by Dr. Gass at Saint Anne’s, followed by radiation therapy, five times a week for four weeks, at the hospital’s cancer center in Fall River.

Bethann, who works as an office manager for an East Freetown landscaping company, found that accessing all of her care by experts in Fall River was not only convenient, but also reassuring. She had grown up in Fall River and had long used Saint Anne’s for her care.

Having her care coordinated through Saint Anne’s, she said, “was much easier to have everything done in one place.” As a previous hospital patient, too, she found that “familiar faces make a big difference.”

Bethann acknowledges that, although the journey through treatment was sometimes challenging, she persevered and was thrilled to “ring the bell” – a longstanding tradition that marks the completion of cancer treatment.

Today, Bethann describes her life as “basically back to normal.” She continues to work and care for her active five-year-old granddaughter. She is grateful to those whose combined expertise healed her, as well as friends and coworkers who encouraged her along the way.

For those who will experience breast cancer care, she says, “Don’t give up, as much as you may want to. Find something to keep you going, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You’ll get there.”

About Saint Anne’s Hospital

Founded by the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation in 1906, Saint Anne’s Hospital in Fall River, Massachusetts, is a full-service, acute care Catholic hospital with 211 beds and satellite locations in Dartmouth, Attleboro, Swansea, New Bedford, and Stoughton, Massachusetts. A member of Steward Health Care, Saint Anne’s provides nationally recognized patient- and family-centered inpatient care and outpatient clinical services to patients from surrounding Massachusetts and Rhode Island communities.

Saint Anne’s key services include the Center for Orthopedic Excellence; bariatric surgery; multiple robotic-assisted surgical capabilities, including orthopedic surgery, spine surgery, and general surgery; Saint Anne’s Hospital Regional Cancer Center; two ambulatory surgery centers; the Center for Pain Management; and inpatient geriatric psychiatry services. In addition to earning the Healthgrades Patient Safety Award since 2017, Saint Anne’s has earned national recognitions for cancer care, spine surgery, bariatric surgery, stroke care, and patient experience. Follow us on Facebook, InstagramTwitter, and LinkedIn.