As a retired teacher and active parishioner of her church, Maria Tucker knows the value of community. So when she was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer at the end of 2020, her friends and family in her neighborhood in the Bronx rallied behind her.
The breast cancer diagnosis was a total shock: “It knocked me right out of the water,” recalls Maria, who lives with her adult daughter, Michelle. But Maria believed she was in the best hands. She had been getting annual mammograms at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) in Harlem for years. The MSK Ralph Lauren Center (MSK RLC) provides mammograms as well as other cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and support services in the heart of Harlem.
Maria’s early cancer diagnosis was crucial to getting her back on the road to health. According to a new study, breast cancer has surpassed lung cancer as the leading cause of cancer death among Black women as of 2019.
A Family Environment for Cancer Treatment, Right in Harlem
Maria was comfortable getting her yearly mammograms nearby. “Proximity to home is one of the benefits MSK RLC offers,” says Kathleen Killoran, MD, MSW, who is Maria’s medical oncologist based in Harlem.
“We’re in a community that she’s familiar with,” Dr. Killoran says. “And because we’re a smaller outpost of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, we can provide a family-like environment. Sometimes, a large hospital can feel overwhelming.”
Doctors and staff members speak both English and Spanish, which enhances communication with the 60% of MSK RLC patients who are native Spanish speakers.
Patients with cancer at RLC also have access to a nutrition consultation, a food pantry, mental health services, and legal advice. Dr. Killoran says that the MSK RLC team in Harlem “pays extra attention to patients’ social concerns and concrete needs because these issues can present obstacles to treatment, both physically and emotionally.”
Support Through a Variety of Breast Cancer Treatments
Maria learned she would need surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Some of her breast cancer treatment took place at MSK RLC in Harlem. For services not available there, like surgery and radiation, she went to MSK’s main hospital on the Upper East Side of New York. Through it all, Dr. Killoran kept her motivated.
“The encouragement from Dr. Killoran was really excellent,” Maria says. “I used to have a big fear of doctors, but I got over that with her. She is a prime example of what a physician should be: caring, loving, and concerned.”
After 12 months of treatment, Maria had no evidence of breast cancer. She continues to do well and sees Dr. Killoran for checkups. She feels a close connection with the members of Dr. Killoran’s team.
“They’re part of my family now,” she says. “We laugh and talk. I like shopping, and they always say, ‘Let me see what you have on today!’ ”
Providing the Upper Manhattan and Bronx Communities With Expert Cancer Care
Maria knows her yearly mammogram likely saved her life and spreads the word about early detection in her community. She says she would tell any woman facing a situation like hers to “have faith and trust that MSK RLC is the place to be.”