When Jeanette Priest was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39, she opted for a double mastectomy in hopes of avoiding radiation treatment. When things didn’t work out exactly as she’d hoped,Jeanette discovered proton therapy, a treatment she says has allowed her to maintain her busy life of work and motherhood.
A mother of two and sales representative for the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, Jeanette discovered a lump in her breast while showering one day—a “complete fluke,” she called it—and ultimately discovered she had stage 1 ductal carcinoma. “It was a devastating blow,” said Jeanette. “I had no family history. The whole thing is scary. And then I just decided, ‘Okay, let’s do this. We’re just going to check this off the list.’ You just do it. I don’t have another option.”
When the initial surgery failed to remove the cancer, she came to Dr. George Webber with the Knoxville Comprehensive Breast Center, who recommended further surgery followed by proton therapy.“I didn’t know a lot about proton therapy,” Jeanette said. “But after meeting with the doctors at Provision, I was completely sold. I sell a cardiovascular drug, so I’m very familiar with that part of the body and how conventional radiation would damage my heart and lungs. I thought, ‘There’s no way I can do anything but proton therapy.’”
For Ms. Priest, the cancer journey has been an exercise in patience and endurance. It took a total of three surgeries to remove the initial tumor with adequate margins to prevent its spread. Then, her insurance company refused to cover proton therapy—in spite of her age and the fact the cancer was located in her left breast and near to vulnerable organs. Although her case is still on appeal with the insurance company, Jeanette decided to go ahead with treatment at Provision whether her insurance company approved it or not. “Because of my girls, because I’m so young, I wanted to give myself the best possible chance at a long, full life,” she said. “I may be in debt, but it’s worth it.”
Proton therapy is a form of radiation therapy, concentrated to target the tumor while sparing surrounding healthy tissue and nearby organs from radiation damage. Ms. Priest said she hasn’t experienced significant side effects with the treatment and has been able to carry on with regular life.“I don’t feel sick,” she said. “I don’t feel like I have cancer.” She also shared that the level of personal support she received from the Provision staff also helped make cancer therapy feel less clinical and more comfortable. “The people have been outstanding,” Jeanette said. “I feel like everybody knows who I am. Everyone takes such good care of me. It makes me feel like this really is no big deal.”
During treatment, Jeanette described being able to live “life as usual, for the most part,” continuing to take her girls to school, go to the gym, play tennis and keep working.