The way Felicia sees it, her cancer journey wasn’t a marathon. It wasn’t even just one race. Instead, it was a series of short courses, each with its own finish line.
And proton therapy was her final finish line. The one that meant the most.
“I took it in chunks. I looked at everything as a finish line,” she says. “Like going through chemo. Just get to that finish line. And proton therapy is my last finish line, so I’m excited!”
The road to that final finish line included mountains of research. She chose to be her own health advocate and made sure she knew each and every one of her treatment options. Ultimately, she took a path that led her to Provision CARES Proton Therapy.
“I still have a lot of life ahead of me. I’ve got things I want to do. Proton therapy makes me feel like my cancer is truly out of me and I’m done. Let’s go on with life. Let’s move forward!”
A LIFE-CHANGING BIRTHDAY
It was May 22, 2020 – the day before Felicia’s 42nd birthday. Of course, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, birthdays already looked different. But little did she know what a life-changing difference this birthday would make.
“My boyfriend and I were out celebrating and we were eating dinner, and that’s when the call came in,” Felicia recalls.
The voice on the other end of that call delivered some bad news, but it didn’t quite sink in at first.
“I was in shock because I always went for mammograms. I’ve been doing that since 40, so I was in shock. Why was it never caught?”
As she made the quiet trip home from a birthday celebration turned somber, questions swirled inside Felicia’s head. The only thing she knew at that point was what the voice on the phone had told her. She had breast cancer and an oncologist would be calling her soon.
THE ‘QUESTIONS GIRL’
Shortly after receiving her diagnosis, Felicia’s survival instincts kicked in. Her first move was to arm herself with information.
“I just did a ton of research,” she remembers. “I like to do research and I really wanted to make sure I was making the right decision for myself. I couldn’t just go by what someone else was telling me.”
In fact, knowing what she knows now, Felicia’s biggest piece of advice for others facing a cancer diagnosis is to do a lot of research and ask questions. She says not to rely on the recommendations of just one doctor. See two or three physicians, if necessary, and don’t feel bad about asking a lot of questions.
“I would write all my questions down. At each appointment, I would joke, ‘You love me, don’t you!’ because I would always have my book and I would have questions. I joked about how much they loved me because I was the ‘Questions Girl!’”
Ultimately, all of those questions allowed Felicia to make an informed healthcare decision. She decided on a treatment path with three finish lines – chemotherapy, surgery, and proton therapy.
“The tumor was so large, and they wanted to treat it aggressively,” she says. “But in the end, it’s your life. You have to make the decision. You have to pick what’s right for you.”
WHY PROTON THERAPY?
Like many breast cancer patients, Felicia’s plan included multiple forms of treatment. Chemotherapy and surgery came first – a chance for doctors to get the bulk of the cancer out of her body. Those would be followed by radiation therapy, which is meant to finish the job by making sure every last remnant of the cancer is destroyed.
However, when radiation therapy is included as part of a breast cancer treatment plan, the patient has a decision to make – traditional radiation or proton therapy?
“I was looking at the different radiation options and that’s how I came across proton therapy,” Felicia recalls. “I really liked that it’s more precise and they can control the depth. That was really important to me because my cancer was on my left side and that’s where my heart is.”
For breast cancer patients, especially left-sided, that depth control is of utmost importance. Traditional radiation uses x-rays that deposit excess radiation before and after the targeted tumor.
On the other hand, as its name suggests, proton therapy for breast cancer uses protons, heavier particles that are more easily controlled than x-rays. Proton therapy deposits most of the radiation at the tumor without continuing beyond the targeted area. This precise depth control lowers the risk of damage to healthy cells and vital organs, such as the heart and lungs.
Felicia says that was the clincher. “I’m young. I still have a lot of life ahead of me, so I didn’t want to cause any more damage, especially with my heart being there. So that really made me choose proton therapy.”
A CARING EXPERIENCE
Provision prides itself on its Culture of Care, and Felicia says that culture was evident throughout her time at the proton center.
“I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true. They really do care. I really do feel that way.”
From the hospitality team at the front desk, who always greeted her with a friendly smile, to the therapy team, who let her pick out her own music during treatment, Felicia says she could feel the Culture of Care.
“There’s nothing like going to a doctor’s office where they make you feel rushed, and it feels like a meat market. I didn’t feel that way at Provision. My doctor really just listened to me and took his time,” she remembers. “And that made me more confident about choosing Provision.”
As for the proton therapy treatment itself, Felicia recalls just how quick each treatment was. “It’s super fast! I would just go back and lay down on the table. They have it all ready and set up and you just lay there while they do their thing.”
She says she experienced only a few minor side effects – some fatigue, sore throat, and skin irritation. However, for Felicia, that was far better than the alternative of traditional radiation, which could have exposed her heart and lungs to unnecessary radiation.
“I feel like it could be way worse if I did traditional,” Felicia says. “I know people who have done traditional radiation and I know what their side effects are. I’m just like, ‘Thank God.’ I’m so glad I was able to do proton therapy.”
And now, after wrapping up her last treatment and crossing the final finish line of her cancer journey, Felicia is sharing her story in hopes of helping someone else find their path to proton therapy.
“If this can help somebody, then I want to do it,” she says, offering one last important bit of advice, “Be your own advocate. That’s important. And don’t give up. Do what you feel is right for you, in your heart.”