Archive for December, 2017

Grateful for Gamma Rays

Since last summer I have become acquainted with an amazing advance in medical technology known as stereotactic radio-surgery or “gamma knife”. In August the procedure was used to clean up an area of ovarian cancer recurrence in the back part of my brain that had been removed with a traditional open-the-skull surgery in July. The focusing of 200 some individual beams of gamma radiation on an area determined by an MRI allows treatment of brain lesions otherwise inaccessible and with less risk of damage to surrounding healthy tissue. Amazing. And with no anesthesia and minimal side-effects.


When my routine three-month follow-up MRI in November revealed new metastatic lesions it was literally a “no-brainer” to choose between the gamma knife treatment or craniotomy! I had the treatment on Dec. 5. For about two and a half hours I laid with my head in a kind of vice, listening to my current novel on Audible piped into the machine, while my radiation oncologist implemented the plan she had devised with my neurosurgeon and the hospital’s medical physicist. I felt nothing except some discomfort from the screws holding the frame to my head and staying as still as possible for the duration of the treatment. I was discharged home with oral pain relievers and ice packs just an hour after the end of the treatment.

gamma worksIn the two days since the procedure I have reflected not just on the amazing technology but on my access to it and to all the other medical and surgical advances that have literally given my life back to me since 2008. My days have been full of gratitude to God for my health care providers.  As a physician (retired)  I think I have a greater appreciation for the physicians who have given me the benefit of long hours of training and ongoing study, to bring an incredibly sophisticated level of care to our little border community of El Paso.

I remember saying on the early morning drive to the hospital for my first surgery, “I sure am glad there is someone like Dr. Santillan, my gyneologic oncologist, who is willing to spend ten hours today operating on me.” And since then on other early morning trips for biopsies around my heart, lung, central chest cavity and eventually my brain, I have been grateful. And amazed at the convergence of caregivers who are not only technically excellent but able to connect with compassion. Dr. Sanchez (oncologist), Dr. Flores (cardiothoracic surgeon), Dr. Han (radiation oncologist), and Dr. Martin (neurosurgeon) are like human gamma rays, converging in my life for healing.

And there truly is “no place like home” where my other human beams of healing converge: my Sisters Carol and Peggy and Associate SC Siba and now Sister Rita…and all the others who have been part of our local community during this part of life’s journey. How can I fail to mention Fr. Bill who has brought the blessing of the sacrament of the sick as well as the accompaniment of friendship to all of us, now from his parish across the border. The Casa in southern New Mexico has its special radiant energy and healing vibe. Atmosphere is everything for bringing body, mind and spirit back to balance and wholeness. Being here has also kept the desire to know “for what have I been healed” close in my consciousness. What is next? What does God still have for me?

Then there are the many beams of prayer and concern that zero in on me from, literally, around the world. You know who you are! The Facebook friends and friends-of-friends, the prayer chains, the global Sisterhood (and Brotherhood), and especially my own dear family and the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati.

This last recurrence of ovarian cancer in my brain has been different in a very particular way.  The visual symptoms that prompted investigation for metastasis aroused concern that I might have deficits from the disease or its treatment that would impact my ability to write, to think, to process, to envision…in ways that previous recurrences did not. I had an urgency to get things done “just in case” while trying not to yield to the dark thoughts that could impact my healing process.

Enter the human gamma rays of hope and reassurance. I give thanks for the love and support that has converged in me and will continue to focus healing energy when and where I most have need.


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