Pacifica resident Nancy Chapman is one of about 50 volunteers in a local knitting group, making hats for chemotherapy patients as well as other comfort pieces for people in the hospital and community members in need. She finds it to be the perfect way to keep her fingers moving and her arthritis at bay. But the work has become even more meaningful since her own recent bout with cancer.
I am happy to be a part of such a giving community.
“My good friend and bridge partner, Helene, got me started in the knitting group,” Nancy says. “Helene has volunteered for decades at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. She’s in a group of knitters who also knit scarves for veterans and baby stroller blankets for new moms. I’ve been in the group now for the past three years.”
So when Nancy found out that the radiation equipment that was used to eradicate her own tumor was funded by community donations, she says, “Well, it made me very happy to know that people give to hospitals.”
Closing in on a Moving Target
Born in China, Nancy and her family fled communism, moving from Shanghai to Taiwan. Her father’s work later sent the family to Brazil for a stint with the embassy in Rio de Janeiro. “When my parents went back to Taiwan a few years later, my sister and I came to the United States to attend high school and go to college,” says Nancy.
She went on to become an investment portfolio manager and subsequently opened her own real estate company and mortgage brokerage.
But in May 2019, Nancy was to face a challenge of a different kind. She was diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer—a tumor that was actually detected by a CT scan taken for other health issues. Nancy’s daughter, Rachel, insisted she follow up with several physicians, and they eventually met with Mills-Peninsula Medical Center radiation oncologist Al Taira, M.D.
Advanced detection technologies today are catching many cancers at early stages. But these small tumors, like Nancy’s, can be difficult to see with standard X-rays and even more difficult to treat with precision if the tumor is moving substantially.
“Nancy’s tumor was in a part of her lung that moved a lot throughout her breathing cycle,” says Dr. Taira. Treating it successfully meant using an enhanced technology called image- guided stereotactic ablative radiotherapy, a technology that was made available to patients through generous philanthropic contributions to Mills-Peninsula Hospital Foundation.
Using that equipment, Dr. Taira pinpointed Nancy’s tumor with three gold markers to highlight the treatment area and minimize damage to healthy tissue. Next, Nancy was coached to hold her breath for very short intervals, while Dr. Taira made sure that the radiation beams were securely locked on target to hit only the tumor.
“This technology is a very good option for individuals like Nancy with an early stage lung cancer who might not be good surgical candidates,” he explains.
“My treatment was a success,” Nancy says. “I can see the area where the tumor once was. It looks like a star burst and I can tell it has been destroyed.”
Pinpoint Accuracy Saves Healthy Organs
Each year, more than 176,000 Californians are diagnosed with cancer, and many will require radiation therapy as part of their treatment. Sophisticated imaging technology is helpful for any tumor that moves with breathing or is close to other critical organs and structures. Dr. Taira and his colleagues can treat lung, pancreas and liver tumors while monitoring exactly where the tumor is and where the treatment beam is aimed.
“Community donations will continue to help us deliver higher, more precise doses of radiation to kill more cancer cells and lower inadvertent doses to healthy organs,” Dr. Taira says. “You can’t walk through the department without seeing the impact of philanthropy, from our linear accelerator to the PET CT, and many smaller enhancements as well. We are very grateful to our community.”
In 2012, donors enabled Mills-Peninsula to replace one of its two linear accelerators, bringing increasingly targeted treatments for complex cancers of the abdomen, liver, lung, breast and head and neck. The Foundation is now launching a $6.8 million fundraising campaign to upgrade the second linear accelerator, as well as obtain a new radiation treatment couch that enables staff to automatically adjust patient positioning during a session. Sutter Health will contribute $1.5 million toward the new linear accelerator.
“Americans are by far the most generous people I have ever seen, much more so than people in other countries,” Nancy says. “I am happy to be a part of such a giving community.”