Those are the words that breast cancer survivor Kathy DeVaughn used to describe her CyberKnife treatments.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that a woman born in the United States today has about a one in eight chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer at some point during her lifetime. Kathy was the one in eight. The 56-year-old Pennsylvania resident was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2017.
Kathy, who has no known history of breast cancer in her family, went for her annual mammogram last year. During the exam, a lump was discovered and a biopsy was ordered. She remembers being at work when she got the call.
“They called me up at work and said, ‘Yeah, you have breast cancer’ and I was devastated,” she said. “I just screamed.”
She received bad news, but there was good news as well. They caught the cancer early and wanted her to come in immediately to discuss treatment options.
Kathy met with surgeon Robert Guilday, M.D. at Crozer-Chester Medical Center and they reviewed treatment options and plans. Kathy decided to have a lumpectomy to remove the malignant tumor and the surgery was set for February 2017.
The good news continued. The surgery went well and lymph nodes that were removed tested negative for cancer. Kathy’s cancer had not spread past her breast.
After surgery, Kathy and Dr. Guilday were discussing follow-up treatment and Dr. Guilday suggested radiation therapy, which is often recommended for most patients who have breast-conserving surgery. According to the American Cancer Society, for women with early-stage breast cancer, studies indicate that breast-conserving surgery plus radiation therapy results in long-term outcomes equivalent to, and possibly even better than, mastectomy. Dr. Guilday recommended that Kathy consider CyberKnife treatment.
The CyberKnife® Robotic Radiosurgery System is a painless, nonsurgical cancer treatment technology in which high-dose radiation is targeted to the tissue surrounding the site where the tumor was removed and radiation is delivered in an accelerated course of treatment over a few days instead of several weeks. The benefits of using Cyberknife include minimized radiation exposure, including radiation to the heart, greater success in saving healthy breast tissue, little to no recovery time, and excellent cosmetic outcome.
“When we first talked about CyberKnife, I was nervous,” Kathy said. “But the more I learned about it, the more I liked it. I liked that it was only going to be five one-hour treatments rather than tons of 15 minute treatments.”
Kathy made an appointment at Philadelphia CyberKnife, a center that treats breast cancer patients with accelerated partial-breast radiation (APBI), and met with radiation oncologist Stephen Arrigo, M.D.
Dr. Arrigo explained how, traditionally, radiation has been given to a patient’s entire breast over about four to six weeks to increase the chance that any cancer cells remaining in the lumpectomy area are destroyed. Healthy cells, as well as cancer cells, can be affected by radiation. Partial breast irradiation, a newer technique, minimizes exposure to the rest of the breast, skin, ribs, lungs and heart. Partial breast irradiation treats only the immediate area surrounding the original tumor, where breast cancer is most likely to recur. Accelerated partial breast irradiation delivers the equivalent of six weeks of daily radiation in just a few days.
Her treatment plan included five CyberKnife treatment sessions that lasted about an hour each. Kathy recalls the treatments being extremely easy and not what someone would expect when they are being treated for cancer.
“The treatments were very easy and not painful at all,” she said. “They were almost relaxing. They played music for me and I fell asleep!”
After treatments, Kathy said she felt good and had no bothersome side effects.
In addition to her CyberKnife treatments being rather easy, Kathy noted that Dr. Arrigo and the entire staff at Philadelphia CyberKnife were extremely nice and took their time with her, putting her at ease.
Kathy’s last CyberKnife treatment was in April 2017 and today Kathy says she feels great and is enjoying life. She is back to work and her last mammogram, which was in January 2018, came back clear.
“If someone asked me if they should get CyberKnife treatment, I’d say do it. Do it,” Kathy said. “It is the least invasive treatment and it doesn’t affect you physically. I didn’t even feel like I was getting radiation. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.”