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The one hundred honoree: Lena Canaj’s Treatment Team

Profile in Medicine

The one hundred honoree: Lena Canaj’s Treatment Team

Mass General Giving

When Blerina Rista brought her mother-in-law Lena Canaj to the Gillette Center for Gynecologic Oncology at Mass General, the two women were reassured by the kindness of the entire staff.

Lena’s endometrial cancer was spreading, and they had come to see Richard Penson, MD. “He said, ‘Lena, it is going to be a long and very difficult journey,’” writes Blerina. “‘I promise that we will be on this journey together.’”

Throughout Lena’s chemotherapy and clinical trials, Blerina often phoned Dr. Penson for guidance on managing symptoms. “He ended every call saying, ‘Call me during the night if you need me,’” says Blerina.

In October 2011, Lena entered palliative care. One dream was yet to be fulfilled, but still within her reach: Raised in Albania, Lena had long prepared to become a U.S. citizen. The entire Gillette team, including the reception staff, case manager, social worker, nurses and Dr. Penson, appealed to Senator John Kerry’s office. An immigration officer went to Lena’s home. “Lena could hardly stand,” writes Blerina.

“But she raised her right hand and proudly recited the oath to become a U.S. citizen.” Lena died at Mass General on December 11, 2011, accompanied by loved ones, including her treatment team. “She left in peace,” writes Blerina, “surrounded by friends, family and the best care-giving team in the world.”