Diagnosed with multiple gynecologic cancers, Traci turned to proton therapy


Meet Traci, a self-proclaimed geek who got more than she bargained for when she was first diagnosed with cervical cancer. Read Traci's story on how she's beating cancer.

Can you tell us a bit about your cancer and what led you to proton therapy?

In January 2017, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer, which led to a hysterectomy. While on the operating table, the doctors determined that I actually had Stage 3 uterine, endometrial, and cervical cancers which had spread to many of my lymph nodes. For most of 2017, I did the standard chemotherapy on a three-week schedule, followed by photon (conventional) radiation through Auburn MultiCare Regional Cancer Center. Unfortunately, I developed many adverse side effects, including diabetes and Graves’ disease (hyperthyroidism), plus drastically low numbers of red and white blood cells, platelets, and hemoglobin measures, most of which I am still dealing with today, three years later. These suppressed levels lowered my immunity to infections. For most of 2017 and the first part of 2018, because of my compromised immunity, I was basically confined to my apartment. I was supposed to avoid crowds, so I’d go grocery shopping at 3 AM. 

At the start of 2019, a follow-up PET scan found that cancer had returned in a single lymph node. After several consultations that ruled out conventional therapy, a radiologist with UW Medicine suggested I try proton therapy. I met with Dr. Apisarnthanarax, at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center – Proton Therapy and it looked like he would be able to help me.

What was proton therapy like for you? 

I started a twice-a-day radiation regimen at the proton therapy facility and weekly chemotherapy at UW Medicine in May 2019, for a total of five weeks. During this time, I was also dealing with severe back pain due to straining my hip flexors. Lying still for the initial CT scans, and even the first two weeks of treatment, was an absolute nightmare. But the staff were amazing: so patient, willing to adapt to my needs, to do what would work for me. Luckily, about two weeks into my treatment, these issues started clearing up.

Everyone at the proton therapy facility was professional and warm. In particular, my nurses Steve and Melissa, were fantastic listeners, making sure they understood what I was feeling and experiencing. One of my favorite moments of treatment occurred one day while the system was rebooting. A technician showed me the "behind the scenes" mechanics of the machine. It was just through the window in the door, but even that was totally amazing. She thought that I would be interested: not me, the patient, but me, the geek. That meant a lot.

In all, I did five weeks of proton therapy, and the hardest part was the drive back and forth from Auburn during rush hour, not the treatments. I even asked Dr. A once if the machine was on!

How did you celebrate being finished?

When I finished my treatments, I wanted to show my gratitude in my favorite way, by feeding people. I brought in snacks from the 85°C Bakery, which were a hit. Personally, I have not truly celebrated yet. I am waiting for the official 5-year mark. Just 4 years and 4 months to go!

Is there anything else you'd like to share with your treatment team?

After five different oncologists told me that they could not help me, I was so incredibly upset that I might die because of a single lymph node. I kept up a good front, doing anything I could to not think of that possibility, but it was always there. After a few days at the proton therapy facility, I really did enjoy being there because the staff was so caring and incredibly funny. They chatted with me to distract me from the treatment: I heard about their book clubs, different hikes, and a rafting trip. They became real people, not just medical personnel.

Tell us about a quote, a person, a song, or anything that inspired you during your cancer treatment.

I am fortunate enough to work with several remarkable people who, unfortunately, have been dealing with a variety of cancers for years. They are my biggest inspirations, as well as sources of help and information. As I once told someone, I am now a member of the worst support group that's full of the most amazing people.

Do you have any advice you’d like to give others?

Over the past three years, I've learned to just listen to my body. I accept whatever it is I am feeling, regardless of what is on my calendar. I would also say: “Live in the moment, but don’t give up planning for the future.”

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