A Star-Spangled Survivor

Maureen Corallo, a grandma and singer from Rockland County, beat breast cancer and is singing the praises of Good Samaritan Hospital.

By Debra Bresnan

I’m known as the lady who sings The Star Spangled Banner. It’s a hard song to sing, and if you start in the wrong key, it’s over,” says Maureen Corallo, 74, a grandmother of five who lives in Thiells, in the Town of Haverstraw.

Hitting the right notes in our national anthem at Little League openers, naturalization ceremonies to welcome new citizens and community events isn’t the biggest challenge in Corallo’s life though: Two years ago — just six months after her youngest son, Steve, died from glioblastoma — she was diagnosed with Her2+ breast cancer, which is often associated with a higher risk of recurrence.

Corallo first received radiation treatments for breast cancer 22 years ago at Good Samaritan Hospital, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth), and she returned there to undergo treatment once again. “Everyone — my doctors, the nurses and the whole team — treated me like royalty, and I felt totally confident,” she says.

In early 2016, Karen Karsif, MD, Medical Director of The Center for Breast Health at Good Samaritan Hospital, performed Corallo’s double mastectomy, and Sushil Bhardwaj, MD, Director of Good Samaritan Hospital’s Bobbi Lewis Cancer Program, administered her chemotherapy and Herceptin treatments, which she is continuing.

Comprehensive Breast Cancer Diagnosis & Treatment

“The two treatments are synergistic, and Maureen’s adjuvant regimen is a classic example of the state-of-the-art treatment available here,” explains Dr. Bhardwaj.

“I’ve had the rare opportunity to see the evolution in cancer diagnosis and treatment,” Dr. Bhardwaj says. “We’ve made tremendous strides in understanding cancer’s molecular biology and can leverage it to get rid of it or give treatments to help people live with it. The other big development is in our ability to minimize side effects, such as nausea, vomiting and infections, to give patients a better quality of life. Best of all, people receive compassionate care close to home, with a full array of services and support — from diagnosis and treatment to survivorship — right here at Good Samaritan Hospital.”

“Dr. Bhardwaj would evaluate me before each treatment,” says Corallo, adding that he assessed her overall health and once sent her to an ophthalmologist and, another time, to a urologist.

Though she temporarily lost her hair and sensation for food, she suffered no major ill effects. “The fact that I never got sick or felt weak surprised me,” Corallo admits. “Actually, the hair is coming in beautifully, and the loss of taste buds allowed me to lose 30 pounds!”

Living, With Gusto

Corallo and her husband, Sal, moved to Rockland County in 1969. They raised three children and welcomed five grandchildren into their close family circle. She sang in their church choir for more than 42 years. She joined the PTA and wrote a regular column for the local paper, Haverstraw Happenings. Before retirement, she was a judge’s secretary at the Rockland County Courthouse.

Corallo is the former co-chair of the Rockland County Breast Cancer Taskforce. “We had events and made phone calls to get the word out about mammograms,” she says. “Back when I was 51, and they found my small breast cancer, it was recommended that women get a mammogram every year until they turned 50 and then every two years after that. If I had waited until I was 52 to get mine, I might not be here today. Absolutely go get an annual mammogram.”

“I feel blessed by the kindness and care I received from everyone at Good Samaritan Hospital. The chemotherapy room has eight big comfortable lounge chairs, with all your equipment and a personal TV. It’s beautiful, clean and light… a pleasant, friendly place that makes everybody feel better,” says Corallo. “If you have to have treatments, go there.”

At the suggestion of one of her nurses, Corallo now speaks with others about her experience. “I’ll let people know how good I feel and look,” she says. “It’s definitely not the end of the world; I’m looking at it as the beginning. I have a great life, and hopefully it will last a lot longer.”


Annual Mammograms Save Lives

“Every woman should have an annual mammogram, from age 40 on,” says Steven Reichard, DO, Director of Women’s Imaging at The Center for Breast Health at Good Samaritan Hospital. “The benefits of screening mammography are significant in that the mammography is the only imaging modality that has been proven to decrease mortality from breast cancer.”

There’s been a revolution in how breast cancer can now be diagnosed and that is 3D mammography or digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT). “Research and clinical trials have proven DBT is able to diagnose up to 30 percent more breast cancers than conventional digital mammography. With this new innovation we are able to view the breast by one-millimeter slices,” says Dr. Reichard. Currently, only about 30 percent of U.S. facilities use 3D because the units are expensive, and their use requires additional training for technicians.

Good Samaritan Hospital acquired a 3D mammogram in July 2016. It is also available at two other Westchester Medical Center Health Network hospitals: Westchester Medical Center and MidHudson Regional Hospital. “It’s a huge addition to our center and fulfills our desire to provide the most up-to-date imaging technology available,” says Dr. Reichard.