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Glen Cove Hospital's "Blue Angels" program going all out to help breast cancer patients

Glen Cove Hospital's "Blue Angels" program helping breast cancer patients
Glen Cove Hospital's "Blue Angels" program helping breast cancer patients 02:35

GLEN COVE, N.Y. -- As Breast Cancer Awareness Month begins to wind down, CBS New York is sharing the exclusive story of one hospital on Long Island, where "angels" are part of the recovery protocol.

The "Blue Angels" program helps patients focus on their mental well-being ahead of cancer surgery.

"I had breast cancer. I felt like my world ended. It's emotional. It was the worst feeling I've ever had in my life," Elizabeth Lubanski said.

It was a difficult diagnosis for the Smithtown mom, followed by a daunting treatment -- a double mastectomy and reconstruction.

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But during two surgeries at Glen Cove Hospital, Lubanski had an angel with her, an angel in the form of nurse navigator Doreen Mather, who started the Blue Angels program after her life was suddenly upended.

"I was diagnosed with stage 3-4 breast cancer. At the time, the oncologist gave me about five years to live, so I was (like) 'This can't be my story,'" Mather said.

The mother of four turned that story around, seeking out holistic approaches along with a double mastectomy and chemo.

She now pays her recovery forward. Her angles in blue guide other breast cancer patients through dreaded surgery.

"That's the one time that you feel alone," Mather said.

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Every surgical patient now gets deep breathing and visualization training, aroma therapy, and weighted blankets.

"I felt so good that they were there, like someone holding your hand," Lubanski said. "I felt like I knew them, like they were my best friends. They stood with me all the way before going into the OR, making me laugh trying to get my mind off of things."

"When you think about a woman going through a mastectomy and reconstruction, there is an emotional aspect," said Dr. Neil Tanna, of Glen Cove Hospital's Katz Women's Surgical Center.

Doctors say it's more than just hand holding. It's now evolved to include training for the entire staff.

"From the person just taking your blood pressure to the doctors who come in to the person who drops off the tray for your meal, every person understands or at least is trained to understand what that woman is going through," Tanna said.

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Doctors say that mindset makes a difference in outcomes.

"We know stress and fear has a negative effect on the body and when we are talking about taking patients to surgery, and want the surgery, being in a calmed state truly does make a difference," said Dr. Susan Palleschi, the director of breast surgery at Glen Cove Hospital.

Lubanski will soon undergo a third surgery, and, eight years out, Mather is cancer free.

"People have to take care of people and that's how you help each other heal," Mather said.

The Blue Angels program is unique to Glen Cove Hospital, but Mather's goal is for it to become standard operating procedure for breast cancer surgical patients elsewhere. Since it began two years ago, 60 members of the hospital's staff have been trained to become Blue Angels.

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