“I will do anything to protect my brain.”
I was diagnosed with an aggressive, stage IV breast cancer in 2013, after finding a lump. The cancer had already spread to five organs, including my brain. I was therefore immediately considered a terminal case. This was just an incredible, horrifying shock to wrap one’s head around. I was only 36, and had no family history of cancer or anything that might have made me think this could happen to me.
I started treatment in New Jersey, where I was living at the time. I was placed on a newly approved combination-drug protocol. However, systemic drugs like chemotherapy aren’t effective in treating brain metastases. So I also began receiving Gamma Knife radiation, or targeted radiosurgery.
Every few months, a few more spots would turn up in my brain, so I’d need additional Gamma Knife treatments. With the technology available at the time, I needed to have a frame attached to my skull for immobilization. Although fairly simple, it’s not what I’d label a comfortable experience. Plus, each surgery required downtime to allow me to heal, so I was missing work for a few days with every treatment.
Protecting the functionality of my brain was key. It’s the chief asset to my career — something I know many of you can relate to! As a data analyst, my recall, logical function and ability to identify patterns is indispensable.
So when the center I was utilizing wanted to discuss switching to whole-brain radiation — standard therapy that can’t be targeted to precise areas the way that Gamma Knife treatments can — it was a total non-starter. “Why on earth would I ever subject myself to that,” I asked, “risking considerable damage to my brain tissue, potential loss of function and cognition, and major limitations to my quality of life?” The risk factors could possibly even cause me to lose my independence. This was simply not acceptable.
I pushed back. My physician mentioned that there was new Gamma Knife technology that had been developed that didn’t require the frame, and he thought his center would have it within a year’s time. But, if they would have it within a year, that meant somebody had it NOW.
I started researching on my own to find out if any other Gamma Knife programs in the U.S. already had this new Icon frameless technology. There were very few centers that did — one in California, and … Roswell Park in Buffalo, right in my new home state of New York, a few hours’ drive away.
Gamma Knife radiosurgery at Roswell Park
We are now treating patients with a brand-new, state-of-the-art Gamma Knife radiosurgery device — the Leksell Gamma Knife® Icon.Learn More
I contacted Roswell Park and set up a meeting with Dr. Prasad and his team. He determined that I was indeed a good candidate for this new frameless Gamma Knife radiosurgery. What’s more, Roswell Park was in-network under my current insurance policy — icing on the cake.
Today, more than two years later, I have no regrets at all. My decision to seek care at Roswell Park was an all-around, complete win. Of all the treatments I’ve been through, Gamma Knife radiosurgery was the least invasive. After a treatment, I can get up and go out to lunch at one of Buffalo’s many craft eateries — I’m personally partial to Allentown’s boutique spots.
I’m currently nearly cancer-free, and my body continues to heal. I recognize that with a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, there are no guarantees. I also know that I’m the author of this story. My career continues to evolve. I volunteer, spend time with friends and family, travel — do all the things that make life meaningful.
It’s easy, especially as a long-term patient, to become a number. The care Dr. Prasad and the team here at Roswell Park have provided is unique — not only due to their level of expertise, but also because they are amazingly personally focused. I want to express my gratitude to each of them for prioritizing caring for patients with dignity and mindfulness.
If you have cancer or metastatic lesions in the brain, I encourage you to learn more about Roswell Park and Gamma Knife radiosurgery to see if you are a candidate for this treatment approach. It’s well worth traveling, since Roswell Park is a pioneer in many different cancer treatments.
Your quality of life is paramount. Treatment options that minimize symptoms and manage the cancer while preserving your quality of life should be at the top of the list. You owe it to yourself to do everything in your power to access such treatments.
Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.