Christine, breast cancer survivor and the inspiration behind Hugs for Healing patient comfort and care products, shares the story of her TomoTherapy® System treatment experience.
Christine and her husband pose with grandchildren on a post-treatment trip to Disney World I thought I was the picture of health until I received a phone call from my doctor in February 2007. When I picked up the phone that day, I didn’t know how radically my life was about to change. It was this phone call that would send my life in a spin, and take me, and my family, on a life-changing journey.
The radiologist on the other end of the phone was very matter of fact. He explained that there was something suspicious within my left breast and referred me to a surgeon, Dr. Jessie MacVicar for a breast biopsy. I assumed it was a routine procedure which would produce normal, (meaning non-malignant), results. I was in shock when I received the news that there was, in fact, a growth…and it was malignant. Everything seemed so surreal…this happens to others, but not to me. I am a nurse…a caregiver, I cannot be the one with the illness…I cannot have cancer.
My surgery was in March, after which I was referred to Signature Brockton Hospital to meet with Dr. Mark Vasa, the chief of Radiation Therapy. I remember going to the hospital for the initial meeting with Dr. Vasa, but do not remember any details of our meeting. I was completely numb from my diagnosis. Even though I’m sure the doctor explained everything to me, including my treatment options, my mind was spinning and I did not comprehend what he said. There was a whole new vocabulary to learn – malignancy, biopsy, radiation, chemotherapy, TomoTherapy.
What followed was a complete blur to me. The diagnosis, biopsy and surgery all seemed like a dream, or rather a nightmare, and I really hoped that I was going to wake up from it. In a subsequent meeting with Dr. Vasa and my oncologist, Dr. Stephen Mayer, my treatment options were explained in detail. After outlining my options, the doctors and I agreed that the best course of therapy would be TomoTherapy, a newly-offered treatment at the hospital.
Because I live so close to Boston, I could have opted to receive my treatments at another hospital, but after considering the pros and cons of each type, I felt very confident in my decision to proceed with TomoTherapySM.
I began the first of my thirty-three treatments in April of 2007. Before the first scheduled session, I received my tattoos, which would be used to guide the laser to the precise location of the tumor. Although I was still numb from my diagnosis, I found myself interested in how TomoTherapy differed from other treatments. I remember reading what literature I was given from my doctor, as well as diligently researching on the Internet. I was so impressed with the technology, and thankful that I was a match for this state-of-the-art technique. The fact that this machine would be able to pinpoint my cancer cells and destroy just them, rather than affecting a larger area, was comforting.
The day of my first treatment in the TomoTherapy® machine was very frightening for me. I had done the research, asked my questions, but still I felt unprepared. I walked into the room and got positioned and anxiously awaited the beginning of the session. What an unexpected surprise it was when the technician came over and placed a heated blanket on top of me! It was soothing and warm, and gave me a sense of comfort as the machine started and the noises circled around me like a halo.
The sessions became more tolerable as I got into a routine. Every day I would grab my tote-bag, or life-preserver, as my family jokingly called it. It was a canvas bag that was presented to me on Easter in lieu of an Easter basket, and it was filled with items that my family knew would bring me comfort and peace of mind during this crazy time. It had a journal and pen for me to write down my thoughts, feelings and questions, a stress-ball to squeeze while I waited to be called in to treatment, and my favorite thing of all….a comfortable, gray, zip-up sweatshirt that had the hand prints of my grandchildren and nieces and nephews on it which wrapped me in hugs every time I slipped it on. I also filled the bag with lotion for my skin, and as I made friends in the waiting room I collected the names, phone numbers, and other information of the members of our “cancer club”. This bag became my security blanket, it held everything I needed to feel in control of an otherwise uncontrollable situation.
At the conclusion of my treatments, I met once again with my surgeon. She was pleased with my response to the TomoTherapy treatments, and put me on a five-year maintenance plan of Tamoxifen. She commented on the condition of my skin that had been exposed to radiation, and was extremely pleased to see that there was no scarring, which is a common occurrence in the treatment of breast cancer using traditional linear radiation methods.
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to be one of the first patients to be treated with the TomoTherapy machine at Signature Brockton Hospital. It was the best course of treatment for my cancer and I am confident that I will remain cancer-free due to the care and treatment I received.
Thank you, TomoTherapy, for your innovative, cutting-edge technology!