"'Mommy, are you going to die?'"
“That was the question my 10-year-old son asked when I told him I had breast cancer,” says Jackie Simms. “Even though I was terrified by the diagnosis, my first thought was for my child.”
After the initial shock wore off, Jackie launched an all-out search for the best cancer treatment hospitals, setting up many appointments. One was at Penn Medicine. She met with Kevin Fox, MD, Director of the Rena Rowan Breast Center, and the Mariann T. and Robert J. MacDonald Professor in Breast Cancer Care Excellence.
"Dr. Fox was patient, compassionate and highly competent,” says Jackie. “I realized from the start that Dr. Fox is like a cancer-fighting quarterback."
Dr. Fox became Jackie's own Peyton Manning, who would direct every aspect of her care and get her to her goal: being cancer-free.
"The challenge of this job and its greatest reward is that every person who walks through this door is hearing about breast cancer for the first time," he says. "Our job is to establish the right treatment plan for each patient, guide the person through the issues of treatment and attend to their emotional and physical well-being — it’s something we’ve done for thousands of patients over many years."
Proton Therapy or Traditional Radiation?
"Early on, I knew that after chemotherapy, I needed radiation. The question was: Should it be proton therapy or traditional radiation?" says Jackie.
Dr. Fox, together with Gary M. Freedman, MD, Penn radiation oncologist, guided her through the pros and cons of each treatment modality.
For Jackie's situation, proton therapy was the most efficient treatment. It offered an exceptional ability to target a precise area with highly concentrated radiation, and spared damage to the heart and lungs.
Staying Alive and Looking Good
Another benefit of proton therapy was that it enabled Jackie to start breast reconstruction earlier in her treatment.
Joseph Serletti, MD, Chief of Plastic Surgery at Penn’s Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine, guided her through the cosmetic reconstruction which evolved over many months.
"Dr. Serletti put me back together again and that has made all the difference," she says. "I love the way I look, and most important, I am cancer-free."
A Fifth-Grader Sums It Up
When Jackie spoke to her son's fifth grade class about her experience, one of the boys asked her a profound question: "How did this experience change how you live your life?"
"Every day is a gift," Jackie answers. "Even if it’s dark or raining, I get up, get to put my feet on the ground and give my son a hug. The other day he said to me, 'Mommy, you're back.'"
"Life doesn’t get any better than this."