A year ago, doctors told Suzan Shughart she had lung cancer and had only 18-24 months to live. But this month, she had an extra reason to celebrate her 60th birthday, as it was also her last day of lung cancer proton therapy treatment at MD Anderson.
When Suzan first received her cancer diagnosis, her doctors were stumped: the test results showed both large and small cell lung cancer, not in her lung but in her chest. Suzan headed directly to MD Anderson in Houston, where doctors spent a whole day examining her. Then, for the next 30 days, they performed different tests on her, trying to find the best way to defeat her cancer.
Eventually, she received her lung cancer diagnosis: a high-grade neuroendocrine carcinoma, an anterior mediastinal tumor attached to the pericardium, a double-walled sac that holds the heart and aorta. Her treatment included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. After undergoing surgery, she returned home to Arizona to have her chemotherapy administered.
After completing chemotherapy, Suzan returned to MD Anderson to begin radiation therapy and again shocked her doctors: her cancer had returned. This time, doctors recommended a new type of treatment at a soon-to-open clinic: proton therapy. This would allow radiation to target Suzan’s cancer, but save the vital organs surrounding it, specifically her heart.
Every day for seven weeks, Suzan went to the clinic for treatment. “I was never sick a day,” Suzan says. But she did suffer other side effects. Her chest burned from the radiation treatment, and eating became difficult. Toward the end of her proton therapy treatment, a spoon of yogurt was a large meal for her. That is why she underwent esophageal dilation to make swallowing easier after her treatment.
“It was a small price to pay,” she says. “I’m alive, and that’s what counts.” When asked how she managed to get through her disease, she said: “My brain just said no. I’ve got four children. I’ve got grandchildren. I have a lot of living to do.”