Paris woman uses medicine, surgery, prayer to battle cancer

In 2011, Deanna  Mason of Paris knew something was wrong. The then 41-year-old with gastrointestinal issues was going in for a colonoscopy.

"The night before my test, I told my husband, 'They're going to find something,'" Mason said.

Sure enough, doctors found colorectal cancer. Mason’s Paris physician sent her to Carle for a more precise diagnosis and care plan.

"The test showed stage two cancer, but I didn't care about the stage. I wanted to fight," Mason said.

Paul Tender, MD, with Carle Digestive Health Institute wanted Mason to have chemotherapy and radiation first. The tumor shrunk slightly, and in November 2011, Dr. Tender prepared Mason for surgery to take out the tumor.

"Dr. Tender said I would have an ileostomy for either six months or the rest of my life. He said when I woke up from surgery, if the ostomy bag was on my right side, it would be temporary. If the bag was on my left side, it would stay for life," Mason said.

"When I woke up, I said, 'Please, Lord, please let the bag be on the right.' I felt my right side and felt the bag. I smiled and went back to sleep."

Dr. Tender (pictured) recalls Mason's surgery.

"I have the greatest admiration for Deanna, and she inspires me with her strength and perseverance,” he said. “Our lives are not defined so much by what happens to us, but by how we respond to it. Deanna provides a powerful example.

“She also reminds us that it is our patients that do the hard work of healing."

After surgery, Mason drove to Carle Cancer Center every day for chemotherapy.

"I drove for two reasons. I trust my Carle doctors to give me the best care, and Carle's Financial Assistance Program helped cover the cost of my treatments," Mason said.

Mason finished her treatment, Dr. Tender removed her ileostomy, and she went on with life.

But in October 2012, a routine exam detected more cancer; this time metastasized to her lungs. 

"Doctors found five spots. I had to start new cancer treatments," Mason said.

Scott Santeler, MD, interventional radiologist with Carle Heart and Vascular Institute performed radiofrequency ablation on three of the five cancer spots.

"I placed a small needle into the tumors, and radiofrequency waves destroyed three of the five lung growths," Dr. Santeler stated. "Radiofrequency ablation is an effective tool we can use to destroy these very small tumors before they grow."

For the two remaining growths, Mason turned to Sinisa Stanic, MD, Carle Cancer Center radiation oncologist. Dr. Stanic performed eight rounds of radiation, and Mason took oral chemotherapy.

"We delivered a high dose of focused radiation (called SBRT) in two areas where a needle placement for radiofrequency ablation was difficult. SBRT completely erased the two tumors,” Dr. Stanic said.

“This is a great example how multi-disciplinary cooperation can give excellent results."

Widely utilized to treat lung cancer, SBRT has been an option for Carle patients since 2013.

Once again, Mason returned to her routine. She and her husband prepared to send their youngest child to college.

Then in March, doctors found another spot on her lung.

"I told the doctors, 'I don't have time for this. I just became a grandmother,'" Mason said.

The spot is not growing, so it could be scar tissue. Doctors continue to watch her closely, and she continues to pray for good health.

The battle-hardened Mason and her doctors are ready for anything.

"I know I'm in good hands," Mason said.