Posts Tagged ‘radiation oncology’

Early detection helps woman conquer lung cancer.

By Susan Skog and Kim Vecchio

A busy lady beats cancer. Dona Ammons sits with her dogs, Mr. Beau Jangles and Bambi. (Photo by Dave Rizzotto)

A busy lady beats cancer. Dona Ammons sits with her dogs, Mr. Beau Jangles and Bambi. (Photo by Dave Rizzotto)

When Loveland resident Dona Am­mons developed a pain near her ribs she figured it was a result of her osteo­porosis. Assuming she had a bruised or broken rib, she went to her doctor to get it checked out.

“On April 1, I went to see an orthopedic doctor, who took an X-ray,” said Ammons. “He confirmed I didn’t have anything wrong with my ribs, but he said, ‘I see something in the X-ray that bothers me.’”

After a chest X-ray and CT scan, Am­mons visited with University of Colo­rado Health pulmonologist, Dr. Richard Milchak. He showed Ammons the mass on her lung. He ordered a biopsy and three days later, took Ammons’ case to UCHealth’s newly created Lung Nodule Clinic in northern Colorado. That’s when the cogs were set in motion for Ammons’ treatment plan with her team.

On April 26, after meeting with a team consisting of radiologists and pathologists, as well as pulmonologists, medical and ra­diation oncologists, surgeons and patient navigators, Milchak called Ammons to tell her she needed additional testing.

“With the advent of the Lung Nodule Clinic, we may see a patient on Wednes­day and hopefully get him into a diag­nostic procedure within a few days to a week,” Milchak said. “Then, a diagno­sis can be more quickly reached and a treatment plan in place within weeks, not months. That time is valuable when you’re treating lung cancer.”

Early detection an important piece

UCHealth is on the frontlines of one of the most urgent, cancer-fighting pursuits in the country: the drive for early detec­tion and better treatment of lung cancer.

Though rates are dropping, lung cancer is still the leading cancer killer in both men and women in the United States, according to the American Lung Associa­tion. It causes more deaths than the next three most common cancers combined: colon, breast and pancreatic. About 159,260 Americans will die from lung cancer this year, the association estimates.

Part of the problem is that the majority of lung cancer diagnoses are made too late, said Dr. Matthew Sorensen, medical director of UCHealth’s oncology service line in northern Colorado.

But Sorensen’s team is working hard to reverse that trend and boost survival rates through the Lung Nodule Clinic. For the first time in northern Colorado, patients benefit from a more efficient approach to detecting and treating lung cancer.

“The lack of communication among providers is one of the biggest com­plaints patients and their families have,” Sorensen said. “There is nothing more frustrating than having two contradictory opinions given to patients at two succes­sive appointments. Now, after I sit down with a patient and their family, and shake their hands as I leave the room to put their treatment plan into place, they don’t need to ask, ‘Are you sure you’ve talked to my surgeon or my radiation oncologist?’ They know we’re all on board, and we’re all aware of the treatment plan.”

A new tattoo

Ammons, who was diagnosed with Stage 1B lung cancer in April, said the clinic was key to her beating cancer. The day after she spoke with Milchak, the Lung Nodule Clinic’s patient navigator, Ladelle West, called Ammons to help schedule her appointments in the right order, coordinate communication among all providers and stay on top of each step of her treatment plan.

West is like the conductor of a sophisti­cated symphony, weaving together all the medical notes. Milchak calls West “the most important person in this process.” And Dr. Kirk DePriest, UCHealth pulmo­nologist added, “like the quarterback to our entire team.”

“Ladelle was very helpful. She handled everything for me,” Ammons said. “She set up all of my appointments and kept me informed. I never had to worry if the physicians were talking to each other be­cause they were constantly communicat­ing and everyone was on the same page. It moved along smoothly.”

Ammons added, “I am a busy lady caring for my dogs, Mr. Beau Jangles and Bambi. I’m also the choir director at my church, I belong to a train club and I play in a uku­lele band. Ladelle and my team handled everything so I could go on living.”

By May 7, Ammons had completed her tests and was scheduled to see Dr. Ann Stroh, UCHealth medical oncologist, who coordinated radiation treatments with UCHealth radiation oncologist Dr. Gwen Lisella. On May 20, Ammons was mapped for her five radiation treatments and on May 29, she had a trial run be­fore beginning her treatments.

“I didn’t know what mapping meant except that I’d get a tattoo,” said a smil­ing Ammons. “At 76 years, I was going to get my first tattoo. Turns out, they were outlining the treatment area, and the tat­toos were small dots to line me up with the machine to make sure I was receiv­ing radiation where I needed it.”

As of June 11, Ammons is cancer-free, two and half months after being diag­nosed with lung cancer.

On Ammons’ last day of treatment, the radiation staff gave her a little white cake with a candle that said “happy day.” However, her last day of treatment won’t be the last day she sees her team. Ammons has multiple follow-up visits scheduled with Milchak, Stroh and her primary care doctor. She will also have a PET scan every three months to make sure the cancer does not return.

“Nobody is letting loose of me,” she said. “Makes me feel so secure that they are following up and taking care of me. They weren’t going to drop off at the end when I finished my treatments.”

It’s that kind of over-the-top support, collaboration and excellence that fires Sorensen up to strive to make the Lung Nodule Clinic at the new Cancer Center one of the best in the nation.

“It’s been so rewarding for me to see the most talented cancer care providers I’ve ever seen come together for the com­plete care of patients,” he said.

Ammons’ team consisted of doctors who bring their expertise to the table to develop the best treatment plan for each patient after discussing everything from the patient’s risk factors to the top drug, clinical trial, surgical and radiation options. In addition to radiologists and pathologists, the team includes pulmon­ologists, medical and radiation oncolo­gists, surgeons and patient navigators.


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Tim was asked how he knew something was wrong. “There were no symptoms. And that’s the scary part. Prostate cancer doesn’t tell you when to go to the doctor because you don’t feel a thing.”

The Fort Collins based photographer recently completed radiation therapy for prostate cancer. Tim received treatment with the TrueBeam STx linear accelerator, regarded as the world’s most advanced technology for treating cancerous tumors.

“The earlier you find the cancer the higher the survival rate,” said Dr. Josh Petit, MD, radiation oncologist.

Watch more patient stories from our cancer care program.

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Poudre Valley Health System recently installed the region’s most advanced cancer treatment technology. Unfortunately, cancer has become a significant disease, and it seems we all know family members, friends or community members who have it.

I encourage you to learn more about the TrueBeam STx that we just put in place at our Harmony Campus in Fort Collins.

This innovative, highly precise new cancer treatment, with highly effective image-guided radiosurgery technology, is the first in northern Colorado, Wyoming and western Nebraska, a hugely positive benefit for patients.

This specialized cancer radiation treatment will be highly used by cancer patients referred to our oncologists by Fort Collins doctors, Loveland doctors, Greeley doctors, and physicians elsewhere throughout our region. It will also be a cornerstone of the Fort Collins cancer center that we are constructing on Harmony Campus.

A letter that says it all…

I want to share a letter I received from Dr. Joshua Petit, medical director of our award-winning oncology program…and radiation oncologist extraordinaire!

Please read his letter below and you’ll learn that the TrueBeam STx is an important addition in the treatment of cancer in our region.

“Dear Rulon:

“This past week marked the culmination of nearly two years of dreaming, planning and great preparation (basically since the moment I brought my practice to PVHS), with the clinical implementation of the TrueBeam STx linear accelerator on the Harmony Campus.

Dr. Joshua Petit, a doctor of radiation oncology who spearheaded the new cancer treatment using a TrueBeam STx at Poudre Valley Health System

Dr. Joshua Petit, radiation oncologist

“This multi-million dollar, megavoltage, high-precision medical device performs the most technically demanding medical imaging and radiation treatment delivery in the history of radiation oncology. Of course, someday this platform will be surpassed, but at this moment the TrueBeam STx is the most technically advanced linear accelerator in existence, and with this capability and precision comes great responsibility.

“I am pleased to inform you that we have been treating a number of very grateful patients without a single problem. Our success is a testament to the diligent process that has been undertaken by our departmental staff, radiation oncology team, physicists and physicians, and the critical support of the health system, especially JoAnn Lovins (the PVHS cancer service line director), in helping to achieve all of the ambitious goals we set for safe, high quality implementation.

“Going forward, we will not only maintain this focus, we will continue to pursue quality improvement every day.

 “Thank you all for your support of my vision for the future of radiation and cancer care in the system. The marriage of our clinical expertise with a treatment armamentarium that is now equal to any major program will bring superior outcomes for our patients.

“You will continue to hear much more about the new and exciting treatments offered to our patients. More importantly, you will see the positive outcomes as they are formally presented, and you will likely hear about them through friends, family, and other members of the system.”

So….this is Rulon again….how cool is this? We are in good hands. Thanks to all of the PVHS folks who worked so hard to be the first to bring this service to our region!

For you, the reader, I’d like to ask this:

If you have personal stories to share about cancer, please email them to me at pvhs@pvhs.org. I am interested in publishing stories of hope and successes and challenges that cancer patients face.


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