Everything in My Favor
During 2016, with a father declining from liver cancer, Tina Davis began to develop some mild symptoms that really didn’t concern her much – some shortness of breath that would become a fiery feeling in her chest if she really exerted herself – like if she mowed the lawn. But she had her hands full with her job as a veterinary office receptionist and doing her part to help her family care for her father. On Father’s Day 2016, her father passed away.
Tina, a North Carolina-based mother of two, including daughter Kristin Price, a software agreement sales specialist at Varian, hadn’t seen a doctor in a while. But as 2017 rolled around, she thought, “This is my year,” and took herself to the doctor for a checkup.
“There was a little issue with my breathing saturation. It was lower than what the doctor wanted to see,” she says. “I hadn’t had a chest X-ray in years, so he ordered one to establish a baseline.”
A Spot that Turned Out to Be Lung Cancer
That’s how Tina’s doctor found a seven-centimeter spot in the lower lobe of her right lung—about the size of the bottom of a Coke can, she said. The doctor was surprised. Other than some shortness of breath, Tina was very healthy. A pulmonologist was consulted to get corroboration.
Tina was 57 at the time and had been a non-smoker, although her father smoked heavily so there was some exposure to second-hand smoke. “I did cry just a little bit when they told me,” she recalls. “The most difficult thing was telling my children. That was harder than being told I had cancer. I was still reeling from the loss of my dad. From the pulmonologist, I was sent to a thoracic surgeon, who did a biopsy and said we needed to go in and take the cancer out.”
The surgery went well. The entire affected lung lobe was removed. Tina’s was an aggressive form of cancer, so the surgery was followed by chemotherapy every two weeks, with PET scans every three months to monitor progress. Still, after a time, a subsequent scan showed some new spots on her lung, and radiation therapy was recommended – a treatment she received on a Varian TrueBeam® system at Iredell Memorial Hospital in Statesville, North Carolina.
From the Lung to the Brain
Then, two years ago, Tina started having some balance challenges. “Something wasn’t right,” she says. “I was having weakness on the right side of my body.” An MRI of the brain revealed a very small tumor toward the back of her skull, and the decision was made to treat it with stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) – a very targeted, high-dose form of radiation completed in a single treatment session. The SRS did what it was supposed to do—the brain lesion vanished. Tina had follow-up MRI scans every three months and kept up bi-weekly chemotherapy treatments, administered through a port on her chest. Life went on.
Positivity and Humor
Last year, an MR image showed another spot on the brain, close to where the radiosurgery treatment had been done. Doctors were not sure whether it was another cancerous spot or just necrotic tissue created by radiosurgery. Unfortunately, in this case, radiosurgery wasn’t an option because doctors needed a tissue sample to know what they were dealing with.
Tina sat with her doctor, absorbing this new information. Then, she surprised the doctor with her next statement, “OK then. If I have to have that done, go ahead and schedule me for a brain fart-ectomy,” she said.
“A what!?” the doctor asked. And then he realized, she was joking. “Positive attitude is so important,” Tina says. “Positivity and humor. I find if I can laugh at it, it’s just a little bit easier.” Tina’s “brain-fart-ectomy” involved drilling a small hole in her skull, getting a piece of tissue, testing it right there and then, and finding out it was not cancer.
Everything in My Favor
Tina’s chemotherapy regimen continues. “This type of cancer can be very aggressive, and even the last PET scan three-and-a-half months ago showed a few tiny, tiny spots that were not even measurable. My doctor doesn’t feel comfortable just letting it ride,” she said.
Tina’s last MRI was good news, however. Nothing new in the brain. The doctor is dropping her back from having MRI scans every three months to four. “You know what, that’s a bonus. I’ve got another month now before he feels he has to check on me. “Everything is still in my favor,” she says, using a phrase she uses often.
Says daughter Kristin: “I have only seen one thing more relentless than cancer and it’s my mom. My mother’s positive attitude and faith have really carried her far in her journey. I remember the first time she was treated on a TrueBeam machine. She proudly told everyone that her daughter worked for the company that made them and when she was done, she said to me ‘Your machine is lovely!’ Definitely not words you would think to hear from someone who just received radiation. She is a resilient woman. I’m beyond proud to be her daughter and I strive to live my life the same way she does.”
Tina credits the support of her family, friends, and religious faith with helping her get through her ongoing cancer journey. Beyond that, listening carefully to everything that doctors say, asking lots of questions so that she can fully understand the implications of medical decisions she is making – all of these contribute to her ability to stay positive.
“I am very, very blessed,” said Tina. “That’s in my favor.”
Disclaimer: Patient story represents the patient’s genuine experience and has not been influenced by Varian. Individual results may vary.