Technology and Navigation Make the Difference for Cancer Patient
Within the fog that comes with a cancer diagnosis, Deb Dubois found a bright spot of good news – technology that could help treat the lesions on her brain was available – but it was only found in Rochester, Minn. or Omaha – a long drive from her home in Wessington, S.D.
That was two years ago, shortly before the Gamma Knife™ was launched at Avera Cancer Institute in Sioux Falls. After her first treatment in Minnesota, Dubois was able to have further treatment, and ongoing care, in Sioux Falls.
“That first time was scary because I didn’t know what it’d be like. Dr. (Kyle) Arneson was great, he was able to refer me and explain how it’d work,” said Dubois, 58. “We all agreed – full speed ahead. Let’s get this done.”
The Gold Standard
Gamma Knife is considered the gold standard for non-invasive treatment of brain tumors and other disorders. While it’s state-of-the-art technology, it’s not a knife. Dubois said that’s among the most-common questions she receives from friends when she describes it.
“It’s not a laser scalpel cutting into your tumors, no, no, no. Many people wonder about that and I say no, nothing like that,” she said. “Really, after the first time, the Gamma Knife was no big deal.”
The Gamma Knife actually an extremely accurate form of radiation therapy. It can treat the brain lesions Dubois is fighting while leaving healthy tissue near them undamaged.
“It’s vital to gain control of cancer when it has gone to the brain, and just as important to be able to provide accurate, strong treatment that is as safe as possible," said Dubois’ physician, Kyle Arneson, MD, PhD, Avera Medical Group Radiation Oncology Sioux Falls. “When we have a cancer patient like Deb, being able to use the Gamma Knife is the best choice. This technology is leading-edge and gives excellent results in both disease control and safety.”
Dubois said the procedure did include a few mild side effects.
“The hardest part is the numbing shots because they go into your head. There’s a light sedation, but you talk during the procedure,” she said. “They attach a halo device, and then they begin. I had a bit of a dull headache after, but during the procedure it’s quite minimally painful, just some pressure.”
Now Dubois has immunotherapy regularly as well as quarterly scans to keep an eye on her condition. While cutting the travel time down considerably, she said there’s more to her treatment than just the use of Gamma Knife technology.
“There’s nothing we can get at Mayo that we cannot also have in Sioux Falls, but really, it is two things, the people and my navigator team,” she said. “The Prairie Center is almost like a home away from home for us. We know everyone and everyone recognizes us when we come in.
It’s a huge thing for us, knowing no matter what questions we have, or what concerns we face, I can just call Carole (Chell, CNP) and no matter what, she’ll help me,” said Dubois. “She answers all my questions, or if she cannot, she tracks down the information I need and calls me right back.”
That knowledge and responsiveness were not foreign to Dubois and her family when the initial cancer diagnosis came – they realized where to go. As her cancer journey continues, she hopes others less familiar with Avera will do the same.
“The big thing is if you have cancer, that’s the place you go,” she said. “When you’re fighting cancer you’ve got to do what you do – and having the support of a great team really has helped us.”