Newlywed beats rare cancer with help of proton therapy

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Cancer cells are tiny yet can be deadly. So how do we kill those cells without damaging surrounding tissue? Science has figured it out, and for one Michigan newlywed this treatment changed her outlook. 

For Andrea Degnore, the gym has always been a place where she finds comfort while being challenged. That was until April of 2018, when something was wrong. 

"I was having pain in my leg thinking it was nothing and then I had an X-ray that showed nothing. I had an ultrasound and they were like, 'I don't know what that is,' then I had a biopsy and that is when I found out."

At the time, Andrea was 25 years old, planning a fall wedding and she was told her pain is a very rare form of cancer affecting the soft tissue around her hip called sinovial sarcoma.

"I was in the car on my way home from work," she said. "My mom called me and she told me what it was and to be honest, I had to stop and Google it because I'm like wait a second that doesn't sound good."

The diagnosis was terrifying, but what scared Andrea even more was the thought of treatment. 

"When my surgeon told me we were going to have to do radiation I was like, oh God, like thinking the worse obviously."

Her cancer was so close to her ovaries, Andrea was worried about one day having children. Then Beaumont doctors told her she was a candidate for proton therapy. 

Proton radiation involves a 50-ton machine to treat cancer with protons instead of X-rays, like traditional radiation. The proton particles stop at the tumor sight compared to X-ray beams which travel straight through a patient. 

"The radiation goes in stops at tumor, there's no exit dose," said Dr. Peyman Kabolizadeh. "So all of the critical structures around the tumor are not going to get any radiation." 

The concern with typical radiation is in some cases the long-term side effects can be devastating. 

"Radiation not only can kill cancer but it can cause cancer in a long term follow up 10 to 20 years," Dr. Peyman Kabolizadeh said.

After 25 proton treatments and a surgery, Andrea was celebrating. And her next step was literally walking down the aisle.

"It was a really good feeling," she said. "It was hard to walk in heels but I did it."

On Sept. 8th in St. Clair Shores, Andrea married John, a picture perfect wedding for the young couple who went through the cancer battle together. 

"If I didn't have him it would not be as easy as it was," she said. "He didn't leave my side the entire time, through everything. He was amazing."

Proton therapy is used with pediatric cancers, or those who require high doses of radiation near critical body parts. Think of left-sided breast cancer, because it's close to the heart. 

It's expensive, and depends on insurance approving the treatment. Beaumont is the only center in the Metro Detroit area that offers it. If you'd like more information, click here