In 2008, Helen Schmidt was blindsided when she was diagnosed with metastatic small-cell lung cancer, which has a 15% survival rate. Faced with this devastating news, Helen immediately underwent proton therapy treatment at The University of Texas MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, and is now a five-year cancer survivor.
Recognizing the signs
While visiting family in Austin, Texas, Helen began experiencing shortness of breath, sneezing and chest pain. After seeing her pulmonologist, she underwent a battery of tests which revealed a pulmonary effusion in her left lung. An MRI scan identified a tumor under her aorta near her heart.
“I was shocked by the diagnosis because I never really had any serious symptoms. After my pulmonologist instructed me to get a biopsy, I went straight to MD Anderson for testing and treatment,” said the 83-year-old McAllen, Texas resident.
Given the tumor’s close proximity to her heart, MD Anderson physicians decided not to operate. However, there was a silver lining – due to the location and size of her tumor, Helen was a candidate for proton therapy, an advanced form of radiation which targets tumors directly while sparing healthy surrounding organs and tissues from damage. During treatment, Helen took advantage of the Proton Therapy Center’s support programs and wellness center, and participated in activities ranging from ceramic painting to dietary lectures, which she says helped he retain her positive outlook.
Celebrating life being cancer-free
Helen completed her treatments before Thanksgiving and another round of tests in 2011, confirming that she was still cancer-free. “When the tests came back negative, I immediately joined members of a church on a trip to Israel to celebrate my cancer-free status. I credit proton therapy for my life and would tell other patients that my close relationship with God and the power of prayer helped me through the hard times,” she said.
In the intervening years, the adventurous survivor fulfilled one of her greatest passions – traveling. She has visited more than a dozen countries, including Germany, Holland, Greece, Montenegro, Croatia, Argentina and Puerto Rico, to name just a few. She has also pursued other hobbies, including painting, reading and knitting.
Helen now spends most of her time tending to her home and garden, working on crafts and enjoying time with family, especially her first great grandson.
I was shocked by the diagnosis because I never really had any serious symptoms. After my pulmonologist instructed me to get a biopsy, I went straight to MD Anderson for testing and treatment.