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Bartender Takes Own Advice to Fight Breast Cancer Diagnosis

New Lenox Resident Benefits from Innovative Prone Breast Radiation Therapy Offered 
at the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross  

(April 8, 2013) — Even after 56-year-old Kathy Vrba received the news that a pea-sized cancerous lump was found in her left breast after her annual mammogram, she decided to take the positive advice she has offered to so many of her patrons during her 28 years as a bartender. “Once I heard the alarming news that I had breast cancer, initially I was so scared, but then instantly I thought no, I’m going to follow my own advice that I have given to so many of my customers and just stay optimistic,” said New Lenox resident Kathy Vrba.

Photo caption: Staff from the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross Hospital pose with breast cancer patient and New Lenox resident Kathy Vrba. Pictured from left to right are Kimberly De Nardo, Lead Radiation Therapist; Kathy Vrba; and Anne McCall, M.D., Radiation Oncologist.

After Kathy skipped her annual mammogram one year, her gynecologist told her during her annual exam that she really must get one. So Kathy went to the Silver Cross Center for Women’s Health for her test in the fall of 2012. When the staff called her and explained that she needed to come in for a second mammogram, Kathy was concerned. “I was so nervous when I returned for another mammogram, but the nurses and staff at the Center for Women’s Health were very supportive,” said Vrba. “They calmed me down and alleviated my fears.” 

Her diagnostic visit revealed a small cancer. After much discussion with her oncologist and her husband, Vic, Kathy decided to have a lumpectomy to remove the tumor. After her surgery, her next step was to have follow-up treatment which consisted of 5 weeks of radiation and 5 years of medicine, to prevent a recurrence. 

Since Kathy was a possible candidate for prone therapy, her physician suggested she go see Dr. Anne McCall at the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross.  Dr. McCall has experience with the state-of-the-art prone breast radiation technique that is offered on the Silver Cross Hospital campus, as well as at the University of Chicago’s Hyde Park campus. 

“The minute I met Dr. McCall I knew I was in good hands,” said Vrba. “She was very friendly and so knowledgeable. She explained why the prone treatment was a good option for me and thoughtfully listened and answered all my questions.” 

“Prone breast radiation treatment is a wonderful technique for the right patient,” said Anne McCall, M.D., Medical Director for Radiation Oncology for the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross Hospital. “And Kathy’s clinical situation made it appropriate to treat her using the prone radiation technique.” 

Dr. McCall adds, “Prone therapy is especially beneficial for women with larger breasts and a tumor on the left side that hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes.  The dose of radiation is uniform with less skin reaction. There is minimal exposure to the heart and lungs. This lowers the risk of complications, such as future heart disease and lung damage.” 

How Does Prone Breast Radiation Treatment Work?

Prone breast radiation therapy is a unique approach to treating breast cancer. Radiation is administered on a specially-designed table with a breast board to help the woman lie more comfortably in the prone position, on her stomach, with the breast hanging down from the body for radiation therapy. 

Some patients may find lying on their stomach challenging, but not Vrba. “As a patient you really have to be motivated to lay on your stomach for treatments, but I really feel Kathy’s upbeat attitude feeds her motivation to do so,” said Dr. McCall. 

Benefits to Prone Treatment

There are many benefits to receiving radiation in the prone position in addition to minimizing radiation exposure to the surrounding organs and tissues. Although the radiation dose in the prone position is the same as when the patient lies flat on her back for radiation treatment.

 “By using the prone technique, the breast falls away from the chest wall making it easier for radiation therapists to target the tumor more precisely with the radiation,” said Kimberly DeNardo, Lead Radiation Therapist for the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross. 

“The goal with every treatment plan is to protect the healthy tissue from radiation,” DeNardo said. “As with every patient, the planning phase was so critical in creating Kathy’s personal prone treatment plan.” 

During the planning phase, radiologists performed a CT scan to determine the exact positions of the cancer and of Kathy’s heart and lungs. “Then we met with the radiation oncologist, Dr. McCall, to develop the best treatment plan,” DeNardo said.  “By using the most advanced TrueBeam new-generation linear accelerator system, we were able to deliver precisely targeted radiation therapy to provide the best results for Kathy.” 

DeNardo brought over 14 years of experience working with cancer patients at the University of Chicago’s Hyde Park campus to her new role on the Silver Cross campus. “Our job is to make every patient’s treatment and experience easier,” said DeNardo. “Whether we hold their hand or simply listen to their concerns, we are there to offer them support. Patients shouldn’t decide that it’s easier to give up instead of fighting when they can be cured with all the advanced cancer care treatment options available, like those offered here at the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross.” 

Comforting Advice to Others

“I would highly recommend the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross to cancer patients,” said Vrba. “The staff of doctors, nurses, radiation therapists and receptionists would always greet me with a warm welcome and say ‘Kathy’s here!’ The care was exceptional, the staff was fantastic and it was all so close to my home.” 

“By coming to the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross, patients have access to the same advanced technology that is offered at the University of Chicago at Hyde Park in downtown Chicago,” said Dr. McCall. “We are fortunate to have highly trained and experienced radiation therapists from the University working at Silver Cross who truly make the patients’ treatment so successful.” 

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Physicians on Silver Cross Hospital’s Medical Staff have expertise in their areas of practice to meet the needs of patients seeking their care.  These physicians are independent practitioners on the Medical Staff and are not the agents or employees of Silver Cross Hospital. They treat patients based upon their independent medical judgment and they bill patients separately for their services.