By Theresa Edwards Makrush
It started with a nagging cough. Conscientious about her health, Nancy Baker sought medical advice, and for three years her cough was treated as an allergy symptom. She eventually went to a pulmonologist and discovered in 2014 that she had lung cancer. A tumor was located in the center of her chest – in her lung and wrapped around her heart. It was not possible to surgically remove the tumor because of its location, so chemotherapy with radiation therapy was recommended as the course of treatment. Nancy had worked as an emergency room nurse at both UF Health and Baptist Health, and she understood the potential side effects of treatment. “I just knew I didn’t want traditional radiation,” she said.
She met with Dr. Bradford Hoppe, associate professor of radiation oncology at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute, who believed proton therapy could help her. She said, “Dr. Hoppe fought with the insurance companies and was turned down three times. Then a clinical trial came up.” It was a cooperative group trial being done at cancer centers across the country and it would mean the treatment would only be available through a randomized flip of the coin. Nancy enrolled in the trial and was randomly selected to receive proton therapy.
“It was a blessing to have the clinical trial,” said Nancy. While she was on treatment she said her quality of life was not really affected very much. She had some tiredness and some skin discoloration at the proton entry point. She received chemotherapy and noticed that others at the infusion center being treated for lung cancer were having a tougher time. “I saw other people and I realized I wasn’t doing so bad.”
Nancy said the doctors and staff made her feel at ease during a very trying time. “These people treat you like you’re royalty. People know your name when you come for your appointment. Even two years later, they know who I am. If I had to have cancer, this is the place to have it.”
Not too long after she completed treatment, she resumed her normal active lifestyle: golfing, tennis and bowling. Now, two years later, she is still going strong. She said, “I can’t thank UF Health and Dr. Hoppe enough for saving my life.”