Patsy, proud mother to two sons serving in the Air Force and wife of 29 years to her husband Jayme, was diagnosed with breast cancer on October 17, 2007. Since then she has endured a double mastectomy, five months of chemotherapy and finally, the easy part of her treatment, CyberKnife® radiosurgery to the liver and spine.
In fall 2005, Patsy started to feel a little different. She couldn’t exactly explain it but she felt overly tired and things that she usually liked to do, like shopping, just didn’t appeal to her anymore. When Patsy visited her doctor, she was told it was depression and was prescribed medication. Patsy discounted the depression theory because she was happier than she had been in years. Patsy and her husband were building their dream home, both of their sons were self-supporting productive citizens and she and Jayme had great jobs. Since the doctor didn’t find anything wrong with the tests they had run, Patsy just assumed her feelings were part of getting older and that it was in her head.
Patsy knew she was at high risk for breast cancer. Her mother was diagnosed in 1998 and underwent a mastectomy on her left side. Her mother’s cancer returned the next year on the right side and she had a lumpectomy. In 2002, the cancer returned to the bone and Patsy’s mother lost her fight in 2004. Throughout her mother’s illness, Patsy was fortunate that she could serve as her mother’s primary caregiver. She attended almost all of her mother’s appointments and treatments. Patsy even stayed with her mother in the hospital and finally in hospice during the last weeks of her life. Patsy witnessed first-hand how horrible and devastating breast cancer can be. Patsy was diligent about getting her mammograms, knowing that early detection was crucial.
“I had five mammograms over the three years prior to my diagnosis,” Patsy said. “Breast cancer terrified me!”
In February of 2007, her mammogram showed a suspicious spot measuring 1.9 cm. Patsy received a letter stating the spot was benign but that she needed to recheck it in six months. In September she had the mammogram repeated and learned that the spot had grown to 2.5 cm. This time the radiologist recommended a biopsy.
“I don’t think it is possible to explain how you feel when you hear the words ‘you have cancer’,” said Patsy. “But I can tell you that it pretty much just sucks all the air from your body. I couldn’t breathe.”
For Patsy, one of the hardest parts of her cancer diagnosis was telling the people she loved, especially since they had lost her mother to the disease only four years earlier. Patsy’s youngest son, Chris, was in Kuwait. They made a decision not to tell him since there was nothing he could do but worry. Her other son, Kyle, came home to help care for her after surgery. Her husband took the news pretty well and he tried to console her by telling her it would all be ok because they found it early.
After many doctor appointments for opinions and long nights on the internet searching for more information, Patsy decided to have a double mastectomy. Her tumor was located in the same spot as her mother’s and she felt this was a sign that if she didn’t remove both breasts then she would be facing the same situation again, in the future. She wanted to be proactive to ensure that she eradicated the disease so she would never have to deal with it again.
After surgery, Patsy was scheduled for five months of chemotherapy with Herceptin, since her cancer was HER2 positive. She was told that although it would not be easy, stage II disease is perfectly curable. Patsy’s oncologist ran a battery of tests before she started treatment, but unfortunately the PET scan showed a spot on her liver. After two biopsies, Patsy received the horrifying news that her breast cancer had spread to her liver. She had one solitary lesion in her liver, which moved her from stage II to stage IV. Up until this point Patsy was confident that she would beat the disease, but now, for the first time, she started to have doubts as to whether she would survive.
Patsy’s oncologist set up a consultation with a liver specialist. The specialist thought her best treatment option was a liver resection. This surgery required a five day hospital stay and a six week recovery period. Due to the invasive nature of this procedure, coupled with the long recovery time, Patsy decided to pursue other options.
During consultations about her liver cancer with Debra Freeman M.D., Naples Community Hospital and Harvey Greenberg, M.D., CyberKnife Center of Tampa Bay, Patsy was told that she was a perfect candidate for treatment with the CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery System. She was very excited. She would undergo three treatments to the liver and would experience no hair loss, have no hospital stay and could return to her normal life immediately following treatment.
Patsy was very familiar with the CyberKnife System because her husband is a service engineer for Accuray, the company who developed and markets the technology. He has been in the radiation therapy field for more than 22 years. Patsy never imagined that she or a family member would end up lying under the same system her husband services.
“I think the best thing about CyberKnife radiosurgery is that I felt the same after treatment as I did before treatment. Anything I could do before I was treated, I could continue to do afterward,” said Patsy. “The experience of the actual treatment was really kind of interesting. I was able to watch the robot move around me, lock on, track my breathing and shoot the beam into my liver. I never felt a thing and was left with no sign whatsoever that I had any treatments. The CyberKnife is truly a miracle!”
Patsy continued to receive Herceptin treatments until tests revealed that her heart function was dropping, a side effect that some women experience when receiving this drug. Unfortunately, only four months after the Herceptin treatments were discontinued, the cancer struck again. A small lesion on the spine was detected on the scan.
“Again, how can this be? Only four months off my treatment, I felt didn’t have a prayer. I was immediately put back on my Herceptin and once again I turned to Cyberknife to help destroy my cancer,” said Patsy.
Dr. Harvey Greenberg agreed that Cyberknife radiosurgery could be an effective tool to treat this new lesion. Patsy had three Cyberknife treatments, again without side effects or pain. After three months her PET scan revealed that her spine lesion had decreased in size from an SUV of 8.9 to 3.2. Patsy and her doctors are confident that given a few more months this spot will be eradicated.
As for her liver lesion, Patsy is happy to report that after her Cyberknife treatments, each PET scan has shown continued improvement. Her liver tumor has decreased in size so that now, two years after treatment, her PET scan report shows her liver as having “Normal Metabolic Activity”. There is no indication of cancer remaining in the organ.
Because Patsy’s breast cancer had spread to other areas of her body, she will continue to be monitored closely to ensure that the cancer does not return. She will continue with the Herceptin treatments, which targets any remaining cancer cells that could be in her body. Patsy believes with all her heart that the CyberKnife System helped save her life by giving her an effective option to treat her spine and liver tumors.
As of the creation of this patient profile, Patsy found her CyberKnife treatment to be successful.