Elizabeth's breast cancer treatment didn't get in the way of her life.

Elizabeth's Story


In the spring of 2015, Elizabeth Shelley’s future was extremely bright: She was about to turn 30, had just started an exciting new job, was pursuing her master’s degree and was training for a triathlon. But the discovery of a lump in her breast threatened to derail her plans. Surrounded by her family during their traditional monthly pizza party, Elizabeth got the call with the results: She had breast cancer.

I think when you are diagnosed at such a young age with cancer the things you were concerned about every day get pushed to the back. And what I feel like MSK gave back to me was all of that. They gave me a future.
Elizabeth Shelley breast cancer survivor
  • When Elizabeth Shelley was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, another hospital told her chemotherapy was her only option.
  • After coming to MSK for a second opinion, she received a nipple-sparing mastectomy. After testing the removed tumor, her care team determined chemotherapy was unnecessary. Elizabeth also worked closely with the MSK plastic surgery team to create a tailored breast reconstruction plan.
  • Today, Elizabeth is cancer free and back to living the life she loves.

Elizabeth first sought treatment at a local hospital near her home in New Jersey, where doctors urged her to start chemotherapy immediately. But she decided to seek a second opinion at Memorial Sloan Kettering, and that made all the difference. At MSK, Elizabeth met with medical oncologist Elizabeth Comen and surgeon Mary Gemignani. Working together, they developed a personalized plan to perform a nipple-sparing mastectomy, then conduct genomic testing on the removed tumor to decide whether Elizabeth needed chemotherapy. The test — called Oncotype DX — determined that she didn’t, sparing her from this unnecessary treatment.

The key to treating Elizabeth, and every patient, is to recognize that treatment is never a one-size-fits-all approach. Coordinating with my surgical colleagues, we found the best possible treatment specifically tailored to her. That's what we do. Working as a team, we maximized Elizabeth's chance for a cure and ensured the best possible quality of life.
Elizabeth Comen medical oncologist

For most women, a breast cancer journey includes much more than the cancer’s removal. It’s also about living the best life possible going forward. Elizabeth’s treatment plan includes daily doses of tamoxifen, an estrogen blocker, which can help prevent her cancer from returning. After her mastectomy, and before she began taking the drug, Elizabeth consulted with a fertility expert at MSK to ensure that having children would still be a possibility when she was ready.

Reconstructive surgeon Peter Cordeiro and his team also created a tailored plan for Elizabeth’s breast reconstruction. Dr. Cordeiro guided Elizabeth through the process and presented a number of options to help her understand what was involved from beginning to end.

Every patient and reconstruction is unique. Here at MSK, we think of the patient in a holistic manner. We work together across all aspects of treatment to make sure we're delivering the best possible result.
Peter Cordeiro reconstructive surgeon

Today, Elizabeth is cancer free and back to living the active life she loves. She’s earned her master’s degree, completed that triathlon, and is still getting together with her family for their monthly pizza parties. Thanks to the dedication and support of her MSK care team, she’s ready for new adventures.