Homer Glen Mom and Nurse Breast Cancer-Free after Radiation Therapy Clinical Trial at UChicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross
As a nurse, Joellyn Koscik knows how important regular health screenings are. So when the Homer Glen wife and other turned 40 last year, she followed the American Cancer Society’s guidelines for breast cancer screening and had her first mammogram.
Never in a million years did she think it would result in a cancer diagnosis.
The Unexpected Diagnosis that Changed Her Life
Koscik’s story began in the spring of 2019, when radiologists flagged a possible area of concern in her right breast. Following a diagnostic mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, her doctor delivered the news: triple negative invasive ductal carcinoma, stage 3. After completing a successful 4-month clinical trial treatment at UChicago Medicine in Hyde Park, Koscik underwent a double mastectomy with reconstruction in June 2020.
Second Clinical Trial a Precautionary Measure
Although the first round of treatment and mastectomy was successful, Koscik’s treatment wasn’t over. She was referred to Dr. Anne McCall, M.D., Radiation Oncologist at the UChicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox, who immediately thought Koscik would be a great candidate for a radiation therapy study she was doing.
“Joellyn was a perfect candidate for this trial because she had such a great response to her chemotherapy and a very successful reconstruction,” said Dr. McCall.
So in July of this year, Koscik started her second clinical trial – this one much closer to home at Silver Cross. The trial involved the use of hypofractionated radiation therapy after mastectomy and reconstruction.
Hypofractionation is a form of external beam radiation therapy that emits high-energy X-ray beams carefully aimed at the breast. Conventional radiation is delivered through the same machine, but with hypfractionation, tumors receive a higher dose of radiation per treatment session.
“The point of the trial is to see the safety and effectiveness of a higher radiation dose over fewer sessions, which I received, versus a lower dose of radiation at more frequent sessions, which is the standard for radiation therapy,” Koscik explains. “The hope is that the radiation therapy after mastectomy will reduce my risk of the cancer returning and improve my outcomes.”
Care Close to Home Made Treatment Much Easier
Over the course of three weeks in July and August, Koscik received 16 radiation therapy treatments with Dr. McCall, instead of the usual 25. The Monday-Friday sessions lasted only 30 minutes, so living just 15 minutes from the UChicago Medicine Comprehensive Cancer Center at Silver Cross made getting to and from her treatments a breeze. Fortunately for Koscik, the side-effects were minor; fatigue and redness at the radiation site meant she could continue to work full time as a nurse, her role for the last 20 years.
During her first clinical trial, Koscik took a blood test that uses DNA analysis to identify harmful changes, or mutations, in either one of the two breast cancer susceptibility genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2. With the results of this test, called a BRCA test, Koscik discovered that even without a family history of breast cancer, she is BRCA1-positive (a genetic mutation of the BRCA1 gene), increasing her likelihood of having breast, ovarian and other reproductive organ cancers.
That news solidified her decision to undergo the mastectomy. “Since the trial only recently ended, I have an upcoming appointment with Dr. McCall to see how I did. I do plan on discussing with her the possibility of removing my ovaries and fallopian tubes as a further precautionary measure,” says Koscik.
A Supportive Tribe Behind Her
Koscik lights up when talking about the people who never left her side and kept her spirits high through the toughest of days. “My husband, Scott and our 11-year old son Jason have been with me through all of this,” she beamed. “Also, my family, my in-laws, my girlfriends, neighbors and co-workers…they never let me get down on myself and continue to encourage me on this journey.”
Koscik also has many compliments on the care she received at Silver Cross Hospital, “I would recommend Silver Cross to anyone. Everyone who cared for me, from the doctors and nurses, the radiation team and the lymphedema therapists, they were all so kind and treated me with love and care. During this COVID-19 pandemic, I am just so grateful to have been able to have my treatments, and I’m beyond thankful for the great results I’ve received so far.”
To learn more about the cancer care offered at Silver Cross Hospital, visit www.silvercross.org/cancer