Sisters’ in solidarity invest in state-of-the-art breast cancer technology

 Rebecca Hollingsworth and Mary Ellen Hughson

Sisters Rebecca Hollingsworth and Mary Ellen Hughson were diagnosed with the same form of breast cancer in the same week.

Rebecca thought something was unusual during a breast self-examination in November 2016. However, a few days later, an ultrasound at The Ottawa Hospital Breast Health Centre confirmed she had breast cancer.

After the shock of receiving the diagnosis, Rebecca persuaded her sister Mary Ellen to go immediately about a little bump that had been bothering her. She did. Her mammogram came back negative. However, because Mary Ellen had dense breast tissue she had a follow-up ultrasound, which revealed that she, like Rebecca, had basal ductile breast cancer. DNA testing determined that their breast cancer was not genetic, but a rare coincidence.

In the weeks before surgery and treatment, Rebecca and Mary Ellen researched the best health centre to go for faster, optimal treatment.

“We learned that The Ottawa Hospital was one of the places to receive top notch medical care for our cancer,” said Rebecca. “We basically realized that we were already in the best spot.”  

They feel strongly about MRI technology. Because both have dense breast tissue, a mammogram didn’t accurately identify their breast cancer tumours. Before surgery, Rebecca had a breast MRI, which picked up five tumours that were not visible on either her mammogram or ultrasound. 

“Had I not had an MRI, we may not have detected the other five tumours.  I’m very blessed that my doctors, and the technology, spotted them,” she said. 

At 44 and 40, respectively, Rebecca and Mary Ellen are active, busy women with small children between eight and 13-years-old. Rebecca has three and Mary Ellen two. The sisters are very close and have been pillars of support for each other, losing their hair at the same time and starting radiation together. Although the sisters had different paths for treatment, they both had Dr. Mark Clemons as their oncologist.  

“We were so inspired by the care we received that we got tuques made and sold them on Facebook,” said Mary Ellen. “We donated the money [$6,000] to Mark Clemons’ Dancing with the Docs fundraising campaign for the Breast Health Centre.”

The sisters’ positive attitude and approach in facing their diagnosis inspired friends to fundraise for the Tesla MRI. They kicked off their campaign by planting ‘Rebecca and Mary Ellen’s Tree of Hope” outside the Breast Health Centre at the General Campus. The Tesla MRI is the most sensitive test available for the detection of breast cancer. It can detect cancer at a much earlier stage, which can mean the difference between life and death.

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"Bringing the Tesla MRI to Ottawa gives us hope. Hope that many women in Ottawa will have their cancer detected earlier and so have the best chances possible," said Rebecca. 

The Ottawa Hospital will be the only hospital in Canada to have this state-of-the art breast imaging technology that will help “future sisters in spirit” like Rebecca and Mary Ellen.