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A Tactical Battle for Life

Posted on December 6, 2022 in Blog

Partial breast radiation gives cancer patients a winning edge

Thompson patient Theresa Tunnell receives life-saving cancer treatment at Thompson Cancer Survival Center.
Theresa Tunnell is celebrating new adventures after cancer treatment at Thompson West. Because her cancer was detected early, she was a candidate for a radiation procedure that targets the tumor from inside the breast.

Meetups with family and friends, camping and kayaking, riding a bike to new adventures on a wide-open road.  Theresa Tunnell is busy, and for a good reason. 

Making the most of every day is something Tunnell became passionate about during cancer treatment earlier this year at Thompson Cancer Survival Center – West.

“I feel like I grew into a better person in so many ways,” Tunnell says.

Like many cancer patients, Tunnell was completely blindsided by her diagnosis. The call came from Parkwest Breast Center on a July day after an ultrasound and a biopsy.

Her battle with cancer was just beginning. But she was a strong warrior, ready to fight.

The Battle Plan

Tunnell’s ductal cancer was caught early, so she was eligible for a special type of cancer treatment after the small tumor was removed. General surgeon William Gibson, MD, would implant a device that that a radiation oncologist could use to deliver radiation from inside the breast, closely targeting the tumor with radiation.

Joseph Meyer, MD, a radiation oncologist at Thompson West says catheter-based accelerated partial breast radiation is a good option for completing radiation therapy in a short period of time. The results in cancer control rates are similar to whole breast radiation.

“For appropriately selected patients, catheter-based accelerated partial breast radiation is a good option for post-operative radiation following breast-conserving surgery,” Dr. Meyer says. “The convenience of this type of partial breast radiation is particularly appealing to patients who need to complete treatment quickly or who cannot travel daily for four to six weeks for whole breast radiation.”

Tunnell says the device looked to her like an egg beater. The very idea such a tool could be inserted and deliver cancer-killing radiation from inside the breast amazed her.

Going to War Against Cancer

After surgery in August at Parkwest Medical Center to remove the cancer, when the time was right, Tunnell went back to Dr. Gibson to have the device implanted and then to see Dr. Meyer, where radiation treatments got underway. Tunnell says she counts it a blessing to have experienced the warmth and compassion of the staff and physicians at Thompson West.

“You develop a sense of family right away,” Tunnell says. “I really have always been a fighter, and with everyone being so compassionate in handling me the way they did, they made it easy to have a positive attitude.”

Tunnell was assigned one of Thompson’s oncology nurse navigators, Lora Fout, RN, OCN, ONN-CG, to serve as a liaison and help with scheduling, communication and support. Friends and family rallied around her, and her husband was with her through every appointment at Thompson West and every phase of care at home.

The combination of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy eradicated the cancer.

“Mrs. Tunnel had a small tumor that was not the most aggressive type. This made her an excellent candidate for catheter-based accelerated partial breast radiation after surgery,” Dr. Gibson says. “Her quick recovery and return to her active schedule exemplifies why we encourage this treatment plan for patients who are well-suited for it.”

Partial breast radiation at Thompson West allowed Theresa to quickly get back to the life she loves.
Partial breast radiation at Thompson West allowed Theresa to quickly get back to the life she loves.

Enjoying Victory

As a survivor embracing life today, Tunnell has advice for others who may be facing the start of a cancer journey with all its uncertainty.

“Stay positive. Smile a lot, laugh a lot, and surround yourself with loving people,” Tunnell says.

She met many of those loving people at Dr. Gibson’s office at Parkwest and Thompson Cancer Survival Center – West.

“It’s just a wonderful feeling,” Tunnell says. “I know that I have a great prognosis, credited entirely to my medical teams and their support. I’m happy to be alive, I’m not skipping a beat, and I owe it to all of them.”

To learn more, call 865-373-5000.