Proton therapy and coordinated care bring late-stage breast cancer into remission

Proton Therapy and Coordinated Care Bring Late-stage Breast Cancer Into Remission.

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Tiffany Gannon underwent successful treatment for breast cancer at MedStar Health.

In 2020, Tiffany Gannon was a highly successful professional at a consulting agency and a dog lover with two of her own when she started to notice subtle changes in her left breast’s shape and texture. Deeply concerned, Tiffany visited a local hospital where she was diagnosed with HER2-positive stage 3 breast cancer.

“My reaction was just, I have to jump into action, I have to take care of the problem,” Tiffany recalls.

After a course of chemotherapy at the same local hospital that diagnosed her and extensive research to determine the best center for the remainder of her care, Tiffany chose MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. There, a team of specialists and care coordinators were ready to meet Tiffany’s needs.

Initially, Tiffany met with David Song, MD, plastic and reconstructive surgeon and vice president of Medical Affairs, Chief Medical Officer, MedStar Georgetown, who stood out in her research because of the surgeon’s excellent reputation in his field.

During their consultation, Dr. Song recommended that Tiffany simultaneously consult with MedStar Georgetown breast surgeon Ian Greenwalt, MD, for a double mastectomy. Dr. Song also recommended Tiffany discuss radiation therapy with Sonali Rudra, MD, director of the Breast Cancer Radiation Oncology program at MedStar Georgetown, the first and most experienced facility offering proton therapy in the Washington, D.C., region.

Tiffany’s MedStar Georgetown care coordinator swiftly arranged her surgeries so that they occurred on the same day to optimize her treatment outcomes—a double mastectomy under Dr. Greenwalt, then reconstructive breast surgery under Dr. Song.

Following these procedures, Tiffany met with Dr. Rudra for her final treatment consultation: proton therapy.Tiffany Gannon walks her dogs outdoors in a park after undergoing successful treatment for breast cancer at MedStar Health.

“With proton therapy,” Dr. Rudra explains, “you can increase the dose directed to targeted areas, while minimizing the amount of radiation to the surrounding normal tissues. For someone young like Tiffany, the ability proton therapy grants to reduce radiation’s harmful effects on the heart and lungs could be a huge benefit.”

From their first meeting, Dr. Rudra’s expertise and empathy brought Tiffany a great deal of comfort.

“I almost tear up a little bit now, thinking about this, because I feel like Dr. Rudra really looked at me as a human being,” says Tiffany. “She asked how I was feeling, personally. Not just ‘Are you in pain?’ Our interaction wasn’t scripted.”

Tiffany’s advanced breast cancer meant there was still a chance of recurrence despite the extensive treatments she had undergone. Additionally, some of her lymph nodes were close to her heart, so they could not be removed with surgery. These circumstances made her an ideal candidate for proton therapy, and Dr. Rudra recommended that Tiffany go forward with it as her final phase of breast cancer treatment.

Three years have passed since Tiffany’s diagnosis and treatment, and she looks back on that time as having given her a new hope for how health care, as practiced by her treatment team can look and feel.

In that time, Tiffany’s breast cancer experience propelled her to leave the corporate world and instead use her expertise to consult on hospitality in small businesses.

“Having had breast cancer, I realized that I don’t want to waste time,” Tiffany reflects. “If I can get through chemo and cancer and radiation and multiple surgeries, I can figure out anything.”

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