Six months after enduring a double mastectomy and many months of chemotherapy, a familiar pain in a familiar place returned, but Angie Morris didn’t want to believe what she felt.
“It took me a while to convince myself to go back and get it looked at. I just thought (the pain) was something I did. I guess I was not wanting it to be what I thought it was. It turned out that it was,” Morris said.
She reconnected with Amy Greenfield, APRN at The University of Kansas Cancer Center at St. Francis Campus, for a CT scan, which showed a new tumor with an added complication: it was located very close to her heart. This made it very difficult to apply radiation therapy without damaging her heart.
The best option for Morris was a treatment called ‘Deep Inspiration Breath Hold (DIBH),’ a technique that physically moves the heart away from the breast, protecting it from radiation exposure.
St. Francis Campus was in the process of installing the technology to perform DIBH in Topeka at the time of Morris’s diagnosis. Fortunately for Morris, her team of specialists was able to provide the treatment at The University of Kansas Cancer Center in Kansas City.
Dr. Shalina Gupta-Burt, radiation oncologist at The University of Kansas Cancer Center at St. Francis Campus worked to develop Morris’s radiation therapy plan. Dr. Gupta-Burt’s main concern was to get Morris the best treatment available. That meant relying on her strong partnership and faculty member status with The University of Kansas Cancer Center.
“As a faculty member of The University of Kansas Cancer Center,” said Dr. Gupta-Burt, “I presented Ms. Morris’s case to 15 radiation oncologists to review and brainstorm treatment options. They all recommended DIBH. I wanted to do DIBH because I knew it would make a difference in this young woman’s life, but I told them I can’t do DIBH in Topeka.”
That’s when the partnership with Kansas City became invaluable. The University of Kansas Cancer Center in Kansas City had the technology to perform DIBH. Dr. Gupta-Burt was able to streamline the treatment plan with her colleagues from Kansas City so that Morris could receive the treatment there. After an initial assessment in Topeka with Dr. Shane Stecklein, radiation oncologist at The University of Kansas Cancer Center who specializes in triple-negative breast cancer, Morris began traveling regularly to Kansas City for her radiation treatments that would include DIBH.
“I was doing radiation and chemotherapy at the same time. I would go to Kansas City for five days for radiation and then would come home to Topeka and do my chemo,” said Morris. “There were a couple of days a month that I would have a double treatment of chemo and radiation.”
The University of Kansas Cancer Center at St. Francis Campus now has the linear accelerator needed for DIBH in Topeka. “We installed the linear accelerator for this therapy in April 2021 and it has become our standard procedure here at St. Francis Campus. I think our relationship with The University of Kansas Cancer Center in Kansas City really enhances our quality of care. Not just in Topeka, but in Kansas City as well,” said Dr. Gupta-Burt.
Morris is especially grateful for the support she got from the staff at The University of Kansas Cancer Center in both locations.
“I really can't say enough about how great all the staff has been, from the doctors to the nurses and the volunteers. Dr. Adrian Caracioni, Dr. Shalina Gupta-Burt and Amy Greenfield, APRN, in Topeka have been with me since day one, which was two and a half years ago.
“Paula Morris, head of the nurses in the treatment center, and her staff have been phenomenal. It takes a special person to be a nurse in that treatment center. And I could tell you, every single one of those women truly care about you and their teamwork is just phenomenal.”
Morris’s biggest support, however, is at home.
“When I look back, my son has been dealing with this since he was three and a half, so this is all he knows, but he's such a trooper. He knows that I'm doing better and has been my biggest support this whole time. One of the main reasons why I fought so hard is because of him.”
Morris is currently in remission, but because her cancer returned quickly, she regularly sees her doctors. This makes her especially passionate about empowering all women to be mindful of their bodies and to stay current with regular exams and mammograms. She even advocates getting a mammogram before age 40.
“Listen to your body. Don't wait too long. If you think something's wrong, go get it checked out. Go to your regular doctor visits, whether they are annual visits, mammograms, routine check-ups or whatever. Listen to your doctors and do the things are they're asking you to do because early detection could possibly save your life.
“Above all, keep a positive attitude to get through it all.”
The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus offers digital breast imaging services, including 3D technologies, at two convenient locations. Call 785-295-8013 to schedule. To learn more about our cancer services or specialists, visit kutopeka.com/cancer.