Ask Elizabeth Morales about her battle against breast cancer, and she’ll answer, “I’m a breast cancer thriver!”
More than a year-and-a-half after her initial diagnosis, the New Hyde Park resident is enjoying time with her husband, Frank, and her two young daughters, Faylen 10, and Michaela, 6.
But Elizabeth’s road to recovery was not easy. It was just after Christmas of 2019 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. While putting away holiday decorations, her thoughts drifted to her daughters and future holidays; she was determined to enjoy future celebrations with her family.
“I kept thinking to myself that I was not done yet,” she said. “There was so much more I needed to do with my girls.”
Knowing the months ahead would be challenging, Elizabeth said the team at Catholic Health’s St. Francis Hospital & Heart Center® made her journey easier and provided her with the confidence she would beat the disease.
Following a mammogram that revealed breast cancer, she was referred to St. Francis Surgeon Marie Hui-Mei Chen, MD, who offered medical expertise and comfort and compassion.
“When I first met Dr. Chen, she wanted to review my case and discuss options. I told her I didn’t want to know the details and that I just wanted the cancer out,” Elizabeth said. “She was understanding and so gentle and kind, but did tell me we had to talk about what I was facing.”
To deal with the cancer and to help avoid possible future issues, Elizabeth decided to have a double-mastectomy. That decision, while not easy, was one that put her at peace. She was further put at ease by the team at St. Francis.
Following surgery, Elizabeth met with St. Francis Oncologist Rajasree Roy, MD. She was concerned about the physical toll of chemotherapy and radiation. After an initial round of testing, Elizabeth received news that would lift her spirits.
“Dr. Roy called to tell me that I would not need chemotherapy, only radiation. When I heard those words, I knew I was going to be OK for my kids,” she said.
Elizabeth received radiation during the height of the pandemic at the Cancer Institute at St. Francis in East Hills where she met Radiation Oncologist Anne Vinokur, MD. While it was an unusual environment given the numerous precautions in place to protect patients and staff from COVID-19, she said Dr. Vinokur and the entire staff were compassionate and focused on treating her condition.
“There were days I wasn’t feeling great and was tired, but the staff would always lift my spirits,” Elizabeth recalled. “Dr. Vinokur and I would chat about everyday life like we had been friends for years. She allowed me to feel normal.”
The appreciation for the St. Francis team was also felt by Elizabeth’s family, most notably her daughter, Faylen, who held a school fundraiser to benefit St. Francis. Selling a variety of handmade items, she raised $300. During a ceremony at Faylen’s school to honor her efforts, Dr. Roy attended to thank her for the donation and support of the hospital.
Today, Elizabeth is healthy and living an active lifestyle that includes being a lifeguard, but understands that she must still be cautious and avoid overexertion. She is also enrolled in the Breast Cancer Weight Loss (BWEL) clinical trial to study whether weight loss may prevent breast cancer from recurring.
BWEL is one of several clinical trials offered by Catholic Health through its affiliation with the Roswell Park Care Network. The affiliation with the Buffalo-based cancer center provides Catholic Health the opportunity to provide cancer patients with some of the most innovative treatments available only through clinical trials.
“I am so grateful for the compassionate care I received from everyone at St. Francis,” she said. “They gave me so much confidence as each person I came in contact with took such an interest in me and made me believe that I was going to be OK. And with their help, I am.”