Living a Full Life with an Inoperable Tumor
Virginia Mason’s cancer program is the oldest Commission on Cancer (CoC) accredited program on the west coast and one of only two accredited Academic Comprehensive Cancer Programs in Washington state. In July 2019, the Floyd & Delores Jones Cancer Institute at Virginia Mason received full accreditation by the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons for fully meeting 34 quality standards of care.
One focus of Virginia Mason’s Cancer Institute is the Lung Cancer Center of Excellence (COE), which provides a multidisciplinary approach to prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment, follow-up and survivorship of lung cancer patients. Care starts with prevention and ends with survivorship.
“We know how important it is to our patients to receive treatment and still be able to keep the normal activities in their lives moving forward." – Joseph Rosales, MD
Patient Chris Beckmeyer can attest to the great care she has received at the Cancer Institute. Her cancer journey began with an annoying cough that wouldn’t go away no matter what she did. She tried several over-the-counter treatments and home remedies, but none of them stopped the cough. Finally she went to her primary care provider, Kristi Blade, MD, at Virginia Mason Lynnwood Medical Center. Dr. Blade ordered an X-ray that revealed a spot in the center of Chris’s chest. Chris was referred to oncologist Joseph Rosales, MD, at the Floyd and Delores Jones Cancer Institute in Seattle. He scheduled a biopsy and determined that Chris had stage 3 cancer, which is advanced but still treatable. Because the tumor was on top of her trachea and esophagus it couldn’t be surgically removed. Dr. Rosales’ treatment plan was to start with a course of chemotherapy and radiation to shrink the tumor.
“I was amazed at how quickly treatment began,” Chris says. “With blazing speed!”
She was also impressed with the coordination between the Cancer Institute in Seattle and the lab at Lynnwood Medical Center. “I could get the necessary lab work done ahead of time in Lynnwood. This meant I only had to be in Seattle for an hour or two for treatment, instead of having labs done the same day and having to sit around waiting for results. That made treatment much easier for me.”
“Many of our patients are from Alaska, eastern Washington and other cities and towns that require them to travel to Virginia Mason and stay in Seattle several days,” Dr. Rosales says. “To accommodate them, our teams coordinate all the tests and provider visits to fit within the days patients are with us instead of having them make multiple trips back and forth from home. We know how important it is to our patients to receive treatment and still be able to keep the normal activities in their lives moving forward.”
A few weeks after her chemotherapy was completed, Chris experienced intense back pain and thought she had a compression fracture. Scans revealed there were new tumors in her neck and groin. Although this development might have seemed entirely negative, Dr. Rosales found a positive aspect in that a test of Chris’s blood indicated her tumors would respond to immunotherapy, a treatment that trains her own cells to fight the tumor. “And the therapy doesn’t make you feel sick,” says Chris.
The treatment is administered through a port, which is a small disc located just under the skin. A soft thin catheter connects the port to a large vein. Chris’s chemotherapy medicines are given through a special needle that fits right into the port, in cycles that allow her body to respond to the immunotherapy and build new cells. She has also been prescribed medication that keeps the tumor from spreading further.
Now three years later the tumor is smaller and has stopped growing. Chris once again has the energy to travel for weeks at a time with her husband, Mark, camping along the way to visit with family, for which she is very thankful. “My time at Virginia Mason has been nothing but wonderful,” Chris says. “They’re an army of angels.”More Stories