Mary Jane Willis


It started with a swelling on her face. Her cheek became swollen for no apparent reason. “As a guidance counselor, wife, mother of four, grandmother of six, I instinctively take care of others,” says Mary Jane Willis, “I just tried to forget about it at the time.” But it was a sign of something much more serious than she ever imagined.

Realizing the swelling wasn’t going away, Mary Jane finally went for a biopsy. The results were negative. But the swelling persisted. Six months after the first biopsy, she went for a second. The results were the same—negative for any disease present. But this time, the oncologist felt there was something not quite right about the look of the tissue he extracted. “They sent the biopsy to NIH—the National Institute of Health,” Mary Jane comments. “About a week later, we finally had an answer from the experts there.” But it was one that she wasn’t prepared to hear. She had cancer, non-Hodgkins follicular lymphoma.

Her primary care doctor Rufino Rosal, MD, of Smyrna, referred Mary Jane to Bayhealth hematologist/oncologist Rishi Sawhney, MD for treatment. “Although the cancer wasn’t rare, the presentation and location were somewhat unusual,” says Dr. Sawhney. “Because of the Bayhealth-Penn affiliation, Mary Jane was able to get an expedited second opinion from a nationally renowned lymphoma expert—Sunita D. Nasta, MD,” emphasizes Dr. Sawhney. She got into Penn quickly and we conferred to develop the best treatment plan.

In the ensuing months, Mary Jane received Rituxan infusion therapy at Bayhealth’s Cancer Center at Bayhealth Kent General Hospital. In July of 2013, she started treatment receiving therapy once a week for four consecutive weeks. In the maintenance mode of treatment, she has been receiving infusion therapy every 90 days for a planned duration of two years.

“Two months after I had the initial treatments, I had a CT/PET scan at U Penn in Philly that showed I was in remission,” says Mary Jane. She and her husband, Bill, can’t say enough good things about the Penn relationship with the Bayhealth Cancer Center. “Her oncologist at Penn—Dr. Nasta—works hand-in-hand with Dr. Sawhney on her treatment. That collaboration has been important in my wife’s recovery,” says Bill. The affiliation gave Mary Jane the benefit of accessing the most progressive care close to home. “Because of the Penn affiliation, if any new technology or clinical trials on lymphoma become available, Mary Jane will be one of the first to benefit because of collaboration,” comments Dr. Sawhney.

“You know, when you’re diagnosed with cancer, it's more than shocking. It literally takes your breath away,” says Mary Jane. But the people at Bayhealth were there to provide more than just clinical help. “Dr. Sawhney & the entire staff of the incredible Bayhealth Cancer Center (receptionists, Nurse Navigators, doctors, administration and infusion staff) are helping us understand what the diagnosis really means, providing the support that is guiding us through this,” comments Mary Jane. With four married children and six grandchildren, Mary Jane looks forward to the future! She and Bill—who live in Smyrna—enjoy working in the family car dealerships, spending time with family, and take pride in being a part of this community. It’s a life they intend to enjoy for many years to come, thanks to the skill of cancer experts at Bayhealth, who offer expert care where they need it most—close to home!

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