Lisa Daugherty — participating in surgical and radiotherapy clinical trials gives breast cancer survivor chance to help others
Lisa Daugherty had been postponing her first mammogram. Since she had no family history, she felt she was low risk. She was 45 when her general physician, Martina Randolph, associate physician in Family and Community Medicine, pushed her to get it. The results revealed a tumor, and the biopsy process resulted in a diagnosis of a ductal carcinoma.
She was referred to Steve Martinez, assistant professor of surgical oncology. “The longest three weeks of my life were after the diagnosis, waiting to see him,” Daugherty said. “But the fact that he does cancer research and teaches as well as treat people instilled confidence in me. I felt like I'd met someone on the cutting edge of his field, who could actually speak with me in plain language about my treatment options.”
Daugherty underwent a lumpectomy, and had one sentinel node removed. The node contained a small deposit of tumor cells, so an axillary dissection was performed, removing an additional 20 lymph nodes. This procedure was part of a clinical trial being conducted by Steven Chen, chief of breast surgery, to determine if arm lymphatics are separate from breast lymphatics. “Arm lymphatics are identified by injecting a small amount of blue dye in the arm,” explained Martinez. “We can then identify blue lymphatic channels in the axilla and attempt to preserve them. This will hopefully cut down on the rate of lymphedema in the future.”
Daugherty’s tumor was classified as Stage IB in the cancer staging process – meaning the risks versus the benefits of chemotherapy was unclear. Kendra Hutchinson, assistant professor of hematology and oncology and Daugherty’s oncologist, recommended the Oncotype DX breast cancer assay, a gene test done on breast cancer cells that can help determine the potential benefit, or lack of benefit, from adjuvant (post-surgical) chemotherapy.
"I feel lucky to have caught it when I did and to have such a great team. Knowing UC Davis Medical Center is a research hospital felt positive, and the resource nurses offered priceless information and were a great help at critical moments in my treatment and recovery."
~ Lisa Daugherty
The assay proved that the risk of recurrence was sufficiently low enough to allow Daugherty to forgo chemotherapy altogether.
“I feel like I dodged one of the biggest bullets of my life, not having to do it,” Daugherty said. She had been watching her father undergo chemotherapy for prostate cancer for more than two years at that point. She added, “It was shadowy and strange to talk cancer with him.”
It was an altogether challenging time. A couple of years earlier, Daugherty had fallen in love with weightlifting; just two months before her diagnosis, she had competed in her first powerlifting meet. After the surgery, and with subsequent radiation treatments, she went from being able to deadlift 205 pounds to not being able to bend down and tie her shoes. She admitted, “There were many times when I wondered if I would ever be able to get back to strength training at all.”
The intensive six-week regimen of radiation therapy also kept her from attending her brother’s wedding. But she finished the treatment in time to hop on a plane to be with her father in his final days.
“2010 was a wild and scary ride,” she said. “I feel lucky to have caught it when I did and to have such a great team. Knowing UC Davis Medical Center is a research hospital felt positive, and the resource nurses offered priceless information and were a great help at critical moments in my treatment and recovery.”
In addition to the lymphatics clinical trial, Daugherty also participated in a lymphedema study and a trial that studied traditional versus shorter, more targeted radiation treatment periods. “Being able to participate made me feel like my turn of misfortune might be used for good somehow,” she said.
Today, Daugherty’s prognosis is good. All signs point to a full recovery, which means 10 years with no recurrence. She will take Tamoxifen for the next five years as an added measure of insurance. She has experienced very little lymphedema, which she attributes to her activity levels and fitness.
She also credits her trainer and weightlifting classmates, who inspired her to stay active. Less than a year later, Daugherty was back to her athletic form, and was able to compete in her second powerlifting competition. “I expect to compete again this November, and many times in the future,” she said with pride.