When a cancer journey has a happy ending, it’s all joy. A breast cancer survivor in Houston named Darla Jaye had just finished treatment when she did what some people do at that time– she rang the “cancer-free” bell. But Darla, former sheriff of Johnson County, Kansas, rang the bell a little too hard.
After doctors located a fast growing tumor in her breast, Jaye underwent 30 rounds of radiation therapy. Finishing treatment at the Harris Health System in Houston, Texas, she flashed a huge smile and rang the bell so hard the clapper flung off and onto the floor.Read More
It also quoted Darla herself, “‘I’ve looked forward to this day since February. I was scared to death, but you guys saved my life!'”
Congratulations to @DarlaJaye1 She completed her last round of radiation treatment for breast cancer. She was so excited, she broke the bell!
“I’ve looked forward to this day since February. I was scared to death, but you guys saved my life!” pic.twitter.com/4DnQmNGW9P
— Harris Health System (@harrishealth) July 15, 2019
Talking about the bell ringing incident, Jaye said she didn’t mean to fling the clapper off, she just couldn’t contain her joy at the treatment process ending. “I couldn’t even fathom being done, I was so overwhelmed yesterday,” she told CNN. “Guess I didn’t know how strong I was!”
When she found out the bell was back up and running, Darla tweeted about her joy. “So happy the bell is back in good working order @harrishealth & that I didn’t totally #BreakTheBell Every #cancer patient should experience the joy of ringing the bell on their last day of treatment! #CancerFree,” she wrote in the post.
So happy the bell is back in good working order @harrishealth & that I didn’t totally #BreakTheBell Every #cancer patient should experience the joy of ringing the bell on their last day of treatment! #CancerFree https://t.co/BTDTvMcoxm
— Darla Jaye (@DarlaJaye1) July 17, 2019
Jaye said she was sort of prepared for what was coming when she went in for radiation, but there was no way to really understand until she was experiencing it first hand. “Even though I kind of knew what was coming, you don’t really know when you lay down on a radiation bed getting ready for treatment,” she said.
And to the doctors who Jaye says saved her life, she is “very, very grateful.”
Information about radiation therapy and breast cancer
There are three common ways in which radiation therapy is used to treat breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The first is when a patient has had breast sparing surgery, to reduce the risk of breast cancer returning to the breasts. The second is after a mastectomy, especially if the cancer was larger than 5 cm, or if there was any cancer in the nymph nodes. The third is if cancer has spread to any other parts of the body, like bones or the brain.
The most common type of radiation therapy for women with breast cancer is called “external beam radiation” and its given using a machine that focuses the radiation on the area affected by cancer.
Possible side effects of external radiation therapy for breast cancer include swelling in the breast, skin changes in the treated area similar to a sunburn (redness, skin peeling, darkening of the skin) and fatigue.
There are also possible long term side effects, such as reduction in breast size and problem with breast feeding. It also may impact options for breast reconstruction later on, and in rare cases can weaken the ribs. It can also lead to swelling in the area it is administered.
The other option for radiation therapy is called “brachytherapy” or internal radiation. In this treatment, instead of using radiation beams from outside the body, doctors place a device containing radioactive seeds or pellets inside the breast tissue briefly in the area where the tumor has been removed.
For women who have had breast sparing surgery, sometimes a combination of external and internal radiation therapies is necessary.
The debates around radiation and breast cancer
The purpose of radiation is to kill cancer cells in a targeted way. With breast cancer, it is often used after surgery to kill off any cancer cells that may remain in the breast or surrounding area. But in the medical community, there are three main areas of debate about radiation – all with the focus of reducing side effects while maximizing outcomes, says Dr. Chirag Shah, Director of Breast Radiation Oncology at the Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center.
Dr. Chirag Shah, Director of Breast Radiation Oncology at the Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center
The first debate centers around the question of whether to radiate the whole breast versus partial breast radiation.
The second debate, according to Dr. Shah, has to do with whether some patients who recieved radiation even need radiation at all.
And finally there’s a debate about which radiation techniques offer the best outcomes with the least side effects.