Diagnosed with breast cancer
After being diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time, Glynis Ebelthite from Bisley in Surrey became one of the first patients to be treated with stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) at a Genesis Care centre.
Conventional radiotherapy would not have been suitable for the 64-year-old due to the impact of the radiation she received during the ‘90s. However, when six months of chemotherapy was not successful in shrinking a secondary nodal tumour that had spread to her chest, Glynis’s oncologist referred her for SABR. The technique precisely targets even the smallest tumours minimising dose to surrounding non-cancerous tissue, thereby re-introducing radiotherapy as an option for patients who experience a recurrence of the disease.
“I’d, unfortunately, had breast cancer twice before, so as soon as I found a lump I went straight to my doctor and was referred very quickly to a breast consultant, and for a mammogram and ultrasound scan.
It was confirmed it was cancer, a completely new disease which wasn’t linked to my previous cancers. I don’t have any family history, and my oncologist, Dr Neal, said it was hormone-linked.
It was worse than before – a grade three, and very aggressive - and within a fortnight I was in the hospital having a mastectomy. It was all very quick - I took early retirement so had my last day at work on Friday, and went in for surgery on Monday!
The doctors then discovered it had spread to my chest. I had six months of chemotherapy after the surgery, but this did nothing to shrink what was still there; in fact, it was still growing despite the chemo being different, much stronger than I’d had last time.
The side effects of chemotherapy
The side effects of the chemotherapy had really been bad, and went on for quite a time; sickness and tiredness as well as losing my hair.
Even though the radiotherapy I’d had before was twenty-five and eighteen years ago, it meant I was unlikely to be able to have anymore due to the scar tissue caused previously and risk of over-irradiating my lung. But Dr Neal suggested I might be suitable for SABR, a type of very precisely targeted radiotherapy, and he spoke with another oncologist, Dr Veni Ezhil, who specialises in the treatment. I did my own research too - but obviously, after six months of chemo and it not shrinking at all, what the doctors said made sense.
Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR)
I went to GenesisCare where everything was explained really well. The team were very good, talking me through everything so I knew what to expect. I was warned that side effects could be severe as SABR used such high doses of radiation, but I decided nothing could be as bad as the side effects I’d had with the chemo.
The planning was crucial. Initially, I went to three separate scanning sessions and then waited for a couple of weeks while the team got everything together. It took quite a while as so much more work was needed for all the extra planning and things that were needed.
Luckily for me, they have a treatment centre in Guildford which is so close, only a thirty-minute drive away from my home. That made life a great deal easier for me than having to travel a long distance. They also sent a taxi, so I arrived in an unstressed state. All these things were very helpful.
I only had to have three treatments, all during the same week. When I first went in the room it seemed very high tech, a bit like a James Bond set! It was marvellous. The session was broken down so each beam only delivered for about three minutes. The whole thing took about thirty-five minutes and was comfortable and completely pain-free.
The team continued taking more images during the treatments and they told me before the last session that they could already see a shrinkage of the tumour. It was amazing.
Unlike the radiotherapy I’d had when I was in my forties, I didn’t have any red skin, soreness or itching; no side effects at all. Dr Ezhil was thrilled, although she did explain that we had to give everything time to settle down before having another scan and follow appointments with her and Dr Neal.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying simple pleasures such as gardening and walking my dog, Spencer. My hair is growing back, although I’m still making the most of wearing my super wigs. I have three wigs which I’ve enjoyed experimenting with – wearing them, and continuing to make up my face has helped me to look well, even on the days I didn’t feel well. That gave me a boost, and I got the biggest kick from people not knowing I was ill.
Friends and family knew, of course, and have all been supportive. My partner has been brilliant, as have my two sons – taking me for treatments and giving me support. My boys were obviously concerned about their mum, but as a family, I think we’ve all coped with it wonderfully well. Both of my sons will become dads for the first time in the next few months which has been a really positive thing for us all.
Back when I was so ill last year, I didn’t think I’d ever become a grandmother, but now I’m looking forward to welcoming them into the world, being able to help out and enjoy spending time with my grandchildren.”