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A New Lease on the Simple Life

A hopeful future after a guarded cancer prognosis

Seana Shepherd
Seana Shepherd fought a life-threatening lung tumor with a regimen of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Support from her family, co-workers and Atrium Medical Center staff helped her get through it.

Seana Shepherd appreciates the simple things in life, like making dinner and being with her family. Last fall, those were things she took for granted — until she discovered she had lung cancer.

Seana was looking forward to Christmas break from Babeck Elementary School in Trenton, where she worked kitchen and crosswalk duties. But she kept feeling tired, and by the time Christmas break started she was experiencing intense pain between her shoulder blades. X-rays and a CT scan revealed a mass the size of a fist.

Seana was referred to Mary Ellen Broadstone Gaeke, MD, medical oncologist at Atrium.

“You have to understand that lung cancer is actually on the rise in women,” explains Dr. Gaeke. “Other types of cancer are more common, including breast cancer, but there is none more life-threatening than lung cancer for women.”

“The tumor was confined to her chest,” says Thomas Morand, MD, medical director of radiation oncology at Atrium. “Even so, with an eight centimeter tumor, the prognosis was guarded.”

Strong Medicine

Seana had become so weak she couldn’t stand up long enough to cook dinner for prognosisher husband and two young daughters. “I used to be strong — the kind of person who could paint the whole house,” says Seana. “This made me feel old.”

Seana’s treatment team recommended simultaneous chemotherapy and radiation therapy, hoping to shrink the tumor to a point where surgical options could be considered.

“She had a lot going for her heading into this,” says Dr. Morand. “She had general good health, a limited smoking history and youth on her side.”

“We wanted to use all the tools at our disposal to help her,” says Dr. Gaeke.

“Seana had 28 continuous days of radiation, plus three cycles of chemotherapy infusion lasting eight hours each, which was extremely aggressive.”

“I had to stay upbeat,” says Seana. “But when I lost my hair I realized visually that I had cancer. It takes away your femininity.”

After the treatments, Seana’s physicians reevaluated her case. At that point the tumor had been reduced to only two and a half centimeters and could be removed surgically. After surgery, Seana had additional chemotherapy treatments to be cautious.

Dr. Broadstone Gaeke
Mary Ellen Broadstone Gaeke, MD
Dr. Morand
Thomas Morand, MD

“Despite dealing with the side effects of treatment, Seana always had a positive outlook,” says Dr. Morand. “I don’t think we could have hoped for a better outcome.”

“Seana has become an enthusiastic non-smoker,” Dr. Gaeke adds. “And she says it wasn’t that hard to give up cigarettes. Now she reports sensitivity to even the smell of smoke.”

“I knew I would be healed of this,” says Seana. “I had my faith, the support of my wonderful husband and a community of people praying for me. My coworkers held fundraisers for us, cooked for us and sent us gift cards.”

Counting Her Blessings

After chemotherapy, Seana experienced neuropathy that caused pain in her feet. She hadn’t regained all of her strength, so she wasn’t able to go back to work right away. In a beautiful show of friendship, Seana’s coworkers donated enough paid time off for her to stay home for the rest of the year.

“At the darkest time of my life,” Seana says, “I realized how blessed I was to have so many people help me.”

“Everybody at the hospital and the infusion center was so kind. Following my surgery, the ladies on the third floor were so good to me,” says Seana. “You don’t realize you can get mean when you’re in pain. I couldn’t have asked for better care. When you’re fighting cancer, it really matters how people treat you. Everyone at Atrium was so good to me.”

Now that Seana has had a few months to recuperate, she’s glad to be able to do things like cook and drive. “It’s liberating to do the normal things that I didn’t have the energy to do last fall. Now I just enjoy every moment with my family.”

Powerful Cancer Care

Powerful Cancer Care

Atrium Medical Center offers the same advanced cancer treatment options found at the nation’s leading hospitals — meaning you can stay close to home, supported by the people and routines that keep you strong.

Our high-tech treatments deliver a strong radiation dose to the cancer site, without the harsh side effects of years ago. IMRT (Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy) and IGRT (Image Guided Radiation Therapy) locate and pinpoint tough-to-reach tumors, while healthy tissues are spared. HDR (High Dose Rate) brachytherapy delivers a tiny, seed-like radiation source directly to the site of the tumor.

Chemotherapy is delivered in our soothing infusion center, while providing each patient privacy and comfort. We offer more than 50 clinical trials — the same studies offered at the nation’s leading centers for cancer research. And adding their expertise to your team of physicians, nurses and radiation therapists are dietitians, pharmacists, social workers, chaplains and others, all on your side every step of the way, so you can count on Atrium for powerful and personalized cancer care.

Learn more about Atrium’s cancer care services and treatments.

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