UConn Health Cancer Survivor Patient speaks on health experiences

Cancer specialist Dr. Susan Tannenbaum talks to Elizabeth Cowles Johnston. Elizabeth Johnston has been successfully treated for breast and lung cancers at UConn Health and continues to be monitored for potential future cancers. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health Photo)

Elizabeth Cowles Johnston, a cancer survivor, spoke with UConn Today on the importance of breast cancer awareness and her experiences with UConn Health.  

Five years ago, she said she found a lump on her breast and called her primary care physician Rebecca Andrews at UConn Health.  She was sent to Dr. Alex Merkulov, Section Head of Women’s Imaging at the Beekley Imaging Center at UConn Health. She received an ultrasound, mammogram and breast biopsy. Within six days of calling her physician, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  

Dr. Susan Tannenbaum, chief of the division of hematology and oncology in the department of medicine and the clinical director of the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center at UConn Health, while reviewing Johnson’s PET scan discovered a surprising spot of lung cancer not related to Johnson’s breast cancer. This was a concerning as well as an unusual development.  

Johnston was diagnosed with Li-Fraumeni syndrome (LFS). LFS is rare and associated with a tumor-suppressor gene, known as TP53. According to the National Cancer Institute, LFS is a rare, inherited disorder which leads to a higher risk of developing certain cancers. The types of tumors most frequently seen in LFS include cancer in the bone and soft tissue, breasts, brain and the adrenal gland. 

Johnston was the first patient that Tannenbaum and Dr. Dana Scott, breast health, and cancer genetics specialist at the Neag Comprehensive Center had treated. 

“They both were open to researching and creating new protocols for my care and connecting with specialists as needed.”

“They both were open to researching and creating new protocols for my care and connecting with specialists as needed,” Johnston said in a UConn Today article. “I now have a team of incredibly smart people all working together for me.” 

The Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center is located in Farmington, Connecticut. It is UConn Heath’s cancer research and treatment center that focuses on both the physical and mental health of cancer patients.  

Johnson and her family were given a therapist who improved Johnson’s outlook on her diagnosis. She advises people concerned about their health to stay aware about the workings of their own body and to keep mental health in mind.  

Scheduling an appointment for a mammogram or health check up is available to UConn Health patients without a referral. Patients can schedule a mammogram through MyChart or by calling 860-679-3634.  Information can also be found on the UConn Heath and the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center websites.  

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