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My Story

Beth | age 52
Licensed Massage Therapist
Tempe, AZ
12 years, 5 months since her MammoSite treatment.

In December of 2006, at the age of 39, I got “the call” from my doctor. It’s the call you are sure you won’t get. The one that makes your head spin with possibilities. Not the good kind.

The lump I had found was malignant.

Certainly that can’t be true. I’m young, the doctors have told me. I’m at the right age for fibroidal tissue to be more noticeable, they say. Still, it is true.

The spinning continues.

A trip to the surgeon secures the fact that 2007 will start with surgery. The films indicate a lumpectomy with sentinel node removal/biopsy is the best route at this point. The surgeon is thorough. He explains all the options, his reasoning for the choice of lumpectomy and what surgery will entail. He then leaves my husband and I to contemplate our decision. Ultimately we agree it is my decision, but this disease affects so many more than just me. It doesn’t take long. If I can have breast saving surgery, that’s what I want. I wouldn’t hesitate to have the mastectomy if that was thought to be best, but all things considered, I’ll keep my original parts. Thank you.

Surgery was successful. Margins were clean. Five lymph nodes were removed. Five were clean. Thank the good Lord!

What now?

Further pathology says radiation is the next step and then a decision on chemo. I need to talk to a medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist. Make those appointments and then come back for your surgery follow-up.

So many new words. So many new doctors. Procedures, drugs, appointments. Things keep spinning.

The follow-up with the surgeon goes well. He’s pleased with the healing. He really thinks I might be a good candidate for “a balloon.”

Hmmm. Wonder what that means.

Have I seen the radiation oncologist yet? That will be in a few days. Good. Am I going to see Dr. Olyejar? Yes. Good, we need to let him know what we are thinking.

Hmmm. Just exactly what ARE you thinking? A newer procedure involving localized radiation may be possible for me, based on the criteria I meet – lumpectomy, clear margins, no node involvement with the cancer and deep enough below the skin. I’m sure he said other stuff or that there was more technical info bantered about. This is what I heard.

The beginning of my new world “Oncology” has begun. With a visit to Dr. Olyejar and the Ironwood Cancer Center, I began to understand the MammoSite option for radiation. With all of the options laid out for me, it became clear.

Localized radiation, internal to the tumor site, administered twice a day for 5 days. Not 6-7 weeks of daily, external rays that increase the chance of skin irritation, softening ribs or damaging lung tissue. Sure doesn’t sound like much of a decision to me. I’m on board without hesitation.

Now it’s not ALL roses without thorns. There is a procedure to insert a balloon into the tumor site. It was in the surgeon’s office and with a local anesthetic was no big deal. They insert the balloon, fill it with some saline solution, cap off the catheter and wrap me up in a big ace bandage.

Yes, there is a small catheter that sort of hangs out of the side of the breast in order to connect easily to the radiation administration tube. Kind of weird, but not painful.

When the balloon was inserted and we were ready to get started, I realized other small benefits. I could still shower and wear deodorant. Something I’m told is a no-no with radiation. Whew!

Now, when it came to treatment time I didn’t work. I’m a Licensed Massage Therapist, so it seemed prudent not to do things that created friction with the site of the catheter or to sweat or do anything that might encourage infection. Not too bad though when it is only 5 days.

A recap of my week with MammoSite went like this – as I wrote in a message to friends and family:

There was some fatigue, though not to a point that I couldn’t function. I simply found a short bit of time in the middle of the day to take a quick nap (~45 minutes.) As for discomfort, this too was only a little and really only while sleeping. I just couldn’t sleep on my side like I wanted to. There were some minor appetite changes at the very end. I just didn’t feel much like eating on day 5 and I had little bit of an unsettled stomach. But could that have been the Super Bowl munchies? Possible. Overall, radiation was tolerated very well. It is so incredible that they have this great technology.

The doctor and his staff are incredible. Efficient, compassionate, communicative. It was a very pleasant experience…if you have to have it at all. It was especially nice that it was only for 5 days.

For the curious, each treatment started with redressing in to my very “own” maroon colored robe. As the day’s patients congregated, we looked a bit like we were heading to a meeting at a monastery or something. We’d each have a CT scan to ensure the MammoSite balloon was still positioned correctly and filled to the correct size.

From there, we all went through the catacombs of the building to wait outside “the vault.” Really! It’s a vault. Built just like a bank vault, 12 X 12 in size. Thankfully it is wallpapered a warm terra cotta color and a nice picture hangs on the wall.

Anyway, we each waited our turn. As we enter the vault for our treatment, the physicist would scan us for radioactivity. We’d go in and settle into a comfy recliner. The technician would hook up an IV-like tube that is attached at the far end to a machine that houses the radiation seeds, into the catheter. The doctor inspects the “wound site” where the catheter emerges from the skin on the side of my chest. Making sure there were no signs of infection and that my skin in general was not reacting to the treatments. They would both smile, tell me to relax (or some such pleasantry) and then leave the room as the foot thick steel door slowly swooshes to a clinking close.

After a few seconds, the machine I’m attached to whirs a few times as the radiation seed is put into my balloon. Then the machine is silent for several minutes. As this occurs, the box on the wall begins to blink and click. This, my friends, is not a clock. Rather, a Geiger counter. Interesting.

At the end of the silence, the machine whirs a few more times as the radiation seed is removed and the counter stops. The door swooshes slowly back open and in come the physicist to scan me and the machine for radioactivity, and the technician to unhook me.

Quite the sci-fi experience.

When I’m no longer tethered, I go back to the nurses’ area, they repack my gauze pads – the open wound sort of drains throughout the entire week. Next it is back to don my own clothing again and off I go until my next treatment. No pain, no heat, no glowing. Then yesterday, instead of the gauze repacking, the doc came in, gave me a little lidocaine and pulled the balloon and catheter out. As simple as that. A little bit of an irritating feeling to that, but nothing that lasted. YEAH!

My story doesn’t end there. I have a rather long treatment plan based on my pathology. However, the radiation phase made a HUGE difference in my perception of the rest. First, it was a positive alternative to the traditional radiation, being shorter with fewer side issues involved. Second, the doctor and staff were incredible as I said earlier. Third, I met some very wonderful women that were in the same boat I was in and talking to them helped erase some of that “alone on a deserted island” feeling this disease can create.

This profile is solely the words of the person who received MammoSite Targeted Radiation Therapy to treat breast cancer. Note that this profile is specific to this particular person, and experiences will vary.