In a poem she wrote for her creative writing class, Stephanie remembered it as the time when
“cancer was fighting back just as hard as my mom was fighting it off.”
Stephanie’s mother, Kim, was in her third battle with cancer. Kim had fought off breast cancer many years earlier after being diagnosed at the young age of 32. She had a lumpectomy, then a double mastectomy. She underwent reconstruction, chemotherapy and radiation. Stephanie was only 6 years old at the time, her younger brother only 3.
Five years later, Kim had to fight back again when she learned that the cancer had spread to her lung. Then, in early 2010, Kim and her family faced the worst scare of all. The cancer had spread to Kim’s brain. “I was getting headaches,” Kim said. “I thought it might be a sinus infection, but they discovered three metastatic tumors: a large one on my left side, near my motor area, and two smaller ones.”
“Brain surgery was needed, and the tears were flooding.
“We all had to be brave for my mom,” Stephanie wrote.
Under the care of specialists at the Brain Tumor Center, which is part of both the UC Neuroscience Institute and the UC Cancer Institute, Kim successfully fought back a third time. Ronald Warnick, MD, Medical Director of the Brain Tumor Center, and his team of neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists, neuro-oncologists and radiologists developed a strategy for treating the three metastatic tumors.
First, Dr. Warnick addressed the large tumor near Kim’s motor area. Three types of brain scans (MRI, fMRI, and DTI) were fused into a 3D map of Kim’s brain and then entered into a surgical guidance computer, whose function is similar to a global positioning system. By revealing the tumor’s relationship to all of the functional centers in Kim’s brain, Dr. Warnick and his team were able to map out a safe pathway to the tumor and then remove it during surgery at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
Stephanie, who “prayed and prayed and prayed” in the waiting area with her family, knew immediately that the operation was a success when Dr. Warnick strode in, smiling broadly, and gave them all a hug.
“Brain tumors that were once unreachable, and therefore inoperable, are increasingly within our grasp,” says Dr. Warnick, Professor of Neurosurgery and Radiation Oncology and the John M. Tew Chair in Neurosurgical Oncology at UC. “With multiple types of brain scans and image guidance, we can now safely reach our destination – the tumor – and with new treatment tools, such as radiation seeds, we can increase the probability that the tumor will not return.”
In the second phase of her treatment for brain metastasis, Kim underwent stereotactic radiosurgery at the Precision Radiotherapy Center in West Chester, Ohio, while under the care of John Breneman, MD, Associate Director of the UC Brain Tumor Center and the Charles M. Barrett Professor of Radiation Oncology. Precise, high-dose beams of radiation were delivered over a period of five days to the two small tumors. The radiation worked by damaging the DNA inside the cancer cells. This made them unable to divide and reproduce and eventually caused them to die.
“In years gone by, brain metastasis represented a devastating phase of a patient’s disease progression,” Dr. Breneman says. “Advances in radiosurgery now allow us to routinely control brain metastases without performing invasive surgery. Patients go home shortly after their treatment, and they often comment that they have no sensation of having been treated.”
Today, Kim’s fight against cancer is just part of her everyday life. Under the careful watch of breast cancer specialist Elyse Lower, MD, she comes to the UC Health Barrett Cancer Center one day every other week for an intravenous treatment of Herceptin and Navelbine, two forms of chemotherapy. The routine is painless. When she is not visiting with a friend, Kim watches TV, reads a book or surfs the Web on her laptop. In addition, Kim takes one pill of Tykerb, another form of chemotherapy, every day.
“I will probably be on chemotherapy forever,” Kim says, with a smile. “It’s part of my life. I just live with it and accept it.”
Despite the ongoing chemotherapy, Kim is immersed in the lives and activities of her teenage children, supporting their academic goals and attending their athletic events. Kim herself raises awareness of breast cancer and metastatic cancer as a member of the Pink Ribbon Girls and as a team captain in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in Colerain Township.
One might even say that Kim is a local celebrity. She is a past winner of the Marvin Lewis Football Award, and she threw out the first pitch of the season at her son’s U14 baseball game in April. “My husband, children, family and friends are a huge support,” Kim says. “My son has no fear whatsoever about wearing pink.”
Stephanie, meanwhile, captures her family’s spirit best in the closing line of her poem:
“Cancer will not steal from anyone without a fight.”
– Cindy Starr
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Hope Story Disclaimer – This story describes an individual patient’s experience. Because every person is unique, individual patients may respond to treatment in different ways. Outcomes are influenced by many factors and may vary from patient to patient.