By Theresa Edwards Makrush
On March 27, 2012, nine months after her wedding day, Kelly Jones got an unexpected and unwelcome phone call from her doctor. She was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.
“We should have been planning our first anniversary celebration. Instead we were figuring out how I was going to beat this cancer,” said Kelly during a speech she made at the Oct. 11 dinner and silent auction that was part of the 11th Annual Play Golf. Fight Cancer.® Classic.
She and her husband Darin and her physician decided that she would have a mastectomy followed by six rounds of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation.
At the very beginning of her treatment, she decided that she wanted to keep her life as normal as possible, which included working as a middle school assistant principal in Alachua County Public Schools, visiting with friends and staying active with her family.
One evening in July, she was invited by her parents Gail and Eric Brill to go with friends to Steinhatchee, Fla., a Gulf coast community famous for its abundance of scallops and only an hour-and-a-half drive from her home in Gainesville. Among the group was Dr. Nancy Mendenhall, UF Health Proton Therapy Institute medical director. Kelly’s breast cancer treatment came up in conversation, and when Dr. Mendenhall learned that Kelly’s cancer was in the left breast, she took Kelly aside.
At the time, the Institute had started a clinical trial using proton therapy to treat cancer in the left breast, and Dr. Mendenhall encouraged Kelly to consider it. Based on previous research comparing treatment plans of protons, IMRT and conventional X-rays, there was evidence that proton therapy could target the treatment area in the chest and minimize damage to the heart and lungs. This advantage appealed to Kelly, who was already at risk of damage to her heart due to chemotherapy.
Incidentally, much of the research done at the Institute is possible through philanthropic donations and funds raised during the annual Play Golf. Fight Cancer.® Classic. For years, Kelly’s mother Gail Brill had volunteered at the tournament, never knowing that one day her own daughter would benefit from the program.
Shortly after the Steinhatchee scalloping trip, Kelly had a consultation with Dr. Roi Dagan at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville. He evaluated her as a good candidate for proton therapy and eligible for the clinical trial. As they discussed the daily treatment that would take place over six weeks, Kelly insisted that Dr. Dagan make sure that she would be completed in time to go on her annual “girls’ weekend” cruise in the Caribbean. He assured her this would happen.
Three years later, Kelly has no sign of cancer. She and her family and friends are grateful that Kelly had access to proton therapy, and they do what they can to support the Institute and spread the word to others who may benefit from the treatment. They recently volunteered to be in the Institute’s just-released TV commercial featuring Kelly ringing Aud’s Chime in the main lobby. Kelly was interviewed by The Gainesville Sun for an article in the newspaper’s breast cancer awareness special section. And she shared her story with the audience at the Play Golf. Fight Cancer.® dinner. There Kelly thanked her husband Darin for his tremendous support. She thanked Dr. Mendenhall for taking time out of her vacation three years ago to tell Kelly about proton therapy. She thanked the tournament’s past and current donors for making clinical research possible at the Institute. And she thanked Dr. Dagan for his expert care, and of course, for making sure she boarded the ship on time.