1/24/18

Super-targeted radiation sets sights on cervical cancer

Twenty years of healthcare experience may have helped Marilyn Smith of Decatur spot the signs of cervical cancer, but it didn’t make it any easier or less frightening.

“At age 83 I never dreamed this could happen to me,” Smith said. “The deadly HPV knows no age barrier.”

A registered nurse, she knew occasional vaginal spotting can be a sign of cancer in post-menopausal women. Still, she didn’t seek medical advice for nearly a month. She is surprised now about her denial and warns never to ignore or deny symptoms.

Things moved quickly after she sought help. A slew of exams, tests and minor procedures with her gynecologist showed something was awry. Referred to Carle, she saw a team of specialists focused on giving her options for treating cancer.

For the past year, Carle Cancer Center has provided innovative care to treat gynecological cancers using high-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy.

“The decision to use radiation therapy was made with my complete understanding, approval and good expectation of cure,” Smith said, following 25 external and four HDR treatments.

Sinisa Stanic, MD, radiation oncologist, said tiny tubes deliver controlled radiation to the tumor with incredible precision. This highly effective approach treats gynecological cancers from the inside out in hours rather than days. Patients experience fewer side effects and less damage to nearby tissue and organs.

At Carle, patients can receive advanced treatment close to home. For Smith it still means a 45-minute drive each weekday, but not to some far off city.

“The care I received from every single person at Carle Cancer Center was given with grace, respect and great expertise. Even the parking attendants gave encouraging smiles and greetings that brought sunshine to my day,” Smith said.

Her brief time in the waiting room alone with her thoughts made those rays of sunshine important. Waiting for treatment, she made friends with other women experiencing similar cancers.

Smith says “hearing you have the ‘C’ word strikes fear that only another cancer survivor understands.”

During intense treatments, it was helpful to have others by her side.

“Being the target of Star Wars kinds of machines and unfamiliar procedures can be frightening at first. It's intense, but the nurses and radiation therapists get you through the tough spots. I can't imagine a better team,” she said.

Knowing an end was in sight made the very-personal procedures bearable.

Smith knows that taking action when she did likely saved her life. Delaying treatments any longer may have made 2018 a rough year.

“I have so much to look forward to … my book club, my growing great granddaughter and my grandson’s wedding. I plan to be here for all of these things and more,” she said.