Cancer often runs in families and Edie Dagley’s mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of forty-five. So as she approached her 45th birthday, Edie saw her doctor and scheduled an MRI. As it turned out, the MRI showed a small lump in her left breast; she was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), a very early ductal cancer.
After Edie’s initial biopsy, she was told she had two options: 1) She could have a lumpectomy, with the chance of an additional lumpectomy in the future, or 2) a mastectomy. After discussing it with her breast surgeon, she opted for a mastectomy and simultaneous reconstruction. Although the thought of a mastectomy originally terrified her, Edie was empowered to make the final decision for herself, and do what felt right for her treatment. Her ultimate sentiment on the matter was, “If you need to do it, it’s not that bad.”
Upon examining the removed tissue, her doctors saw that cancer cells were speckled throughout the breast. Edie was fortunate though; genetic testing on the cancer cells showed that her cancer was non-aggressive and slow-growing. During her surgery, the doctors were also able to determine that the cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes. Her oncologist recommended radiation therapy as a follow-up to her mastectomy.
Almost immediately after meeting with radiation oncologist, Edie felt she was in good hands. Her treatment was planned using image-guided IMRT, or intensity modulated radiation therapy. For six weeks, five days a week, Edie spent a few minutes on the ‘couch’, while radiation was delivered to a carefully-sculpted area on the left side of her chest, where her cancer had been. The radiation was guided using respiratory gating technology in which a small wireless cube, placed on the patient’s chest, broadcasts the breath-position of the chest to the computer. The computer, monitoring the device, calculates the right moments to deliver radiation to the tumor site, minimizing exposure to the heart and lungs.
Edie did experience some minor side effects. “I was a little tired. I kept exercising throughout treatment, because that’s what my doctor told me to do, and I think that really helped. My skin also felt a little itchy and hot.” There was one day that Edie’s skin “opened a bit,” and she saw “just a teeny bit of blood.” So her treatment team didn’t give her radiation that day, and instead gave her a topical solution that helped her skin heal quickly.
Edie is one of many patients who appreciated how little radiation therapy interrupted her everyday life. “I would leave here at a quarter to 3, my appointment was at 3. I’d zip in there, change my clothes, I’d be in the treatment room for 15 minutes, and I’m out.” Despite how brief her treatment time was, Edie was still comforted by how thorough and dedicated her team was. Like many other patients who undergo radiation therapy, Edie gushes about the radiation therapists who delivered her treatment 5 days a week. She says, “I cried when I had my last treatment because they took such good care of me.”
In March 2010, Edie finished her course of radiation therapy. Her follow up includes a visit to her oncologist every three months, and she will have a mammogram every year. “I’m just doing everything I can to be healthy and not worry, and exercise and eat right. And I feel lucky. I feel lucky.”
Varian would like to thank Marin Cancer Institute in Greenbrae, CA for their invaluable assistance in the preparation of this story.