Four years ago, Suzan Shughart was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer and given 18-24 months to live. Refusing to accept this diagnosis, her determination to live and fight through cancer led her to the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center in search of answers.
The first signs of trouble began when Suzan went in for a routine checkup. Her doctor in Phoenix noted she had high blood calcium – indicating there was something pushing on her parathyroid gland. Further tests revealed an adenoma on her parathyroid gland that required surgery to remove.
The real shock came the day before surgery when Suzan had an X-ray to assess the area, and the doctors discovered a large tumor in the middle of her chest.
Suzan’s reaction surprised her the most.
“I didn’t panic. I remember thinking very calmly, ‘Oh, so this is how it happens, this how I die.’ and then immediately deciding that I would beat this.”
Suzan’s search for a second opinion led her to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. In less than a week, she was in for her first appointment.
“I’m so thankful for MD Anderson’s thoroughness. They took a deeper look at my cancer and saw that my diagnosis didn’t have to be a death sentence.”
In February, Suzan’s tumor was surgically removed at MD Anderson, and then Suzan returned to her hometown of Scottsdale for chemotherapy. Five months later, the cancer came back.
“From my first experience with MD Anderson, I’d become very spoiled by how fast results are delivered. I knew immediately I wanted to go back – it was worth the trip to Houston to hear my test results the same day they were performed, and know that they were being read and analyzed with the highest level of expertise and care.”
Once back at MD Anderson, her doctor suggested she might be a candidate for proton therapy, an advanced type of radiation treatment that uses a beam of protons to deliver radiation directly to the tumor destroying cancer cells. This ability to precisely target tumors makes proton therapy ideal for treating lungs because they are located close to several critical structures in the body, such as the heart and esophagus.
On her 60th birthday -- after 35 daily doses of proton therapy -- Suzan had much to celebrate – she rang proton therapy’s ceremonial gong marking the end of her treatment.
“I never felt sick. I drove myself to the Proton Therapy Center every day and used my time in Houston to shop, eat, explore and spend time with my son, daughter-in-law and baby granddaughter.”
Today, after also undergoing treatment at MD Anderson for breast cancer, Suzan is in remission for both cancers and is doing well. Suzan is thankful for the care she’s been given, but also for having the courage to take charge of her health and find the best solution.
“This experience has taught me to take a breath and deal with what you’ve been given. It’s taught me that faith and a positive attitude are huge, not only in getting through cancer, but also in life.”