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Cancer survivor sings praises of one-shot radiation treatment

Vula Reese (click for larger version)
November 14, 2012 - he idea of spending five to seven weeks visiting a hospital for daily radiation treatments didn't appeal to Vula Reese for a number of reasons.

That's why the 47-year-old Oxford resident is more than happy to tell everyone about how she was able to get her breast cancer treated in a single procedure at the Crittenton Cancer Center.

"We need to educate as many people as possible about the IORT (Intraoperative Radiation Therapy) option," Reese said.

IORT is a state-of-the-art radiation therapy program that allows cancer patients to receive a single, powerful dose of radiation directly to a tumor site during surgery. This technique helps reduce treatment times and minimize side effects.

"If you're not aligned with a surgeon that knows about this, then nobody would ever tell you that it's an option," Reese said. "That's unfortunate for other women out there."

Back in June 2011, Reese was diagnosed with Stage 0 breast cancer after a routine mammogram found a tiny tumor in her left breast.

"It was minuscule, microscopic," she said.

Stage 0 is used to describe non-invasive breast cancers. There's no evidence of cancer cells or noncancerous abnormal cells breaking out of the part of the breast in which they started, or getting through to or invading neighboring healthy tissue.

As can be expected, Reese found the news to be "devastating." She described her family – which includes husband Robert Methner, son Mitchel Reese, 16, and stepdaughters Amber Methner, 17, and Somer Methner, 13 – as "shocked" and "confused" by the news.

"They automatically went to the big C-word and how that usually doesn't end well," Reese said.

"When you first find out, you don't know what the scope of it is," she noted "There's three weeks to a month's time, where all you know is you have breast cancer, but you don't know what the impact is. It's a very scary time."

Fortunately, treatment for Stage 0 is usually very successful. The five-year survival rate is about 93 percent.

But Reese wasn't thrilled about the prospect of having daily radiation treatments, following her lumpectomy, for five to seven weeks.

Her biggest concern was the long-term effects of the radiation on her body.

"When you're doing radiation, it's affecting more than just the area they're radiating," she explained. "Having the rest of my body exposed to all that radiation, including my lungs and other tissue, that was the thing I really wanted to stay away from."

Reese noted she's heard of women who had radiation treatments for their breast cancer and 30 years later, they ended up with breast cancer. "It's hitting more spots than what it needs to," she said.

Believing she was a good candidate for IORT, which delivers a full course of radiation treatment in just one dose, Reese's surgeon recommended the option. Her oncologist concurred.

"Based on the ease and simplicity of the process, it was absolutely something I wanted to look into," she said.

IORT isn't just for breast cancer patients. It can also be used to treat cancers affecting the bile duct, cervix, colon, rectum, esophagus, gallbladder, head and neck, eye and orbit, ovaries, pancreas, prostate, skin and tonsils.

She underwent the IORT procedure in August 2011.

"It was outpatient surgery. I was in by 7 a.m. and home by noon," Reese said.

After the surgeon removed the tumor, radiation was channeled directly into the tumor cavity. Because it's administered in such a targeted manner, it minimizes the exposure to surrounding healthy tissue and organs.

"It's all done while you're on the operating table. It's all one shot," Reese said. "If it works, there's no follow-up radiation treatments at all."

IORT offers a time-saving option for women and other cancer patients who do not live near a treatment center or need to work to support their families. Compared to traditional radiation therapy, IORT is much less disruptive to a patient's daily life.

Reese was extremely pleased with the results. "The recovery was fabulous," she said. "I was only out of work for two weeks. I was up and around at home within a couple of days."

Because it only required three incisions, there will be no long-term scarring, she said.

So, how is her health today?

"Clean slate so far," said Reese, who now has a mammogram performed on her left breast every three months and on the right one every six months. "I don't know what they officially call it, but it's just gone."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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