Optimism in the face of a double cancer diagnosis
One cancer diagnosis is devastating, and two within three months would put anyone into a tailspin. But Donna Kapinos, of Harwich took it in stride and maintained a positive outlook.
“I can find something good in everything,” she said.
Kapinos’ cancer journey began in February 2015, when she was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ in her right breast. The following month, she had a lumpectomy to remove the cancer, and biopsies revealed she had invasive cancer as well. The cancer had moved outside of the ducts in her breast. A second lumpectomy was performed in April to remove a larger area and two nodes, which were clear. The cancer had not spread far.
“When I got the cancer diagnosis, I thought I had been punched in the stomach,” said Kapinos. But then she met with her PCP, Anna Manatis, MD, an internal medicine specialist with Emerald Physicians in Harwich, followed by her breast surgeon who explained the reports. Kapinos said she then began to feel more comfortable. “I felt so lucky because it was a very tiny area and I wouldn’t need chemotherapy.”
She had a planned trip to Alaska in June of that year and wanted to wait until her return to start radiation treatments for the breast cancer. In the meantime, she had her annual pap test, which was positive for atypical cells, an indication that she needed further testing. A colposcopy revealed that Kapinos had endometrial cancer of the vaginal cuff, a recurrence of endometrial cancer that was treated with a hysterectomy in 2007. This diagnosis was found early and the treatment this time would be radiation.
She heard the words “I’m sorry, you have cancer,” for a second time. She again found reassurance after meeting with her gynecologist, William Agel, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Cape Cod Hospital. “He was most wonderful in explaining everything,” said Kapinos.
True to her sense of adventure and endurance, Kapinos went on her trip to Alaska and enjoyed a two-week cruise. When she returned, the hard work began.
She met with Molly Sullivan, MD, a radiation oncologist at Cape Cod Healthcare’s Regional Cancer Network at the Davenport-Mugar Cancer Center at Cape Cod Hospital.
“What we decided to do was have her start taking an anti-estrogen medication anastrozole (Arimidex) to treat the breast cancer and then proceed with a two-phase radiation treatment of the pelvic area to treat the endometrial cancer,” said Dr. Sullivan.
Kapinos had external radiation to her pelvis five days a week for five weeks followed by six treatments of internal radiation treatments (brachytherapy) of the vaginal cuff, three days a week for two weeks. During those six treatments, she started daily external radiation treatments for the breast cancer, Monday through Friday for six weeks.
“She had almost every kind of radiation we offer,” Dr. Sullivan said.
Kapinos’ positive attitude was inspirational, she said.
“Even when she wasn’t feeling that great towards the end of the external pelvic radiation, she always had a smile, it was quite amazing.”
Kapinos completed her radiation treatments in October 2015. She is feeling stronger and attributes the care she received to the success of her treatment.
“I felt I was in the best of care; the whole hospital experience was wonderful,” said Kapinos.
Dr. Sullivan offers this advice to new patients facing radiation treatments.
“Don’t listen to other people’s stories about radiation,” she said. “Everyone’s cancer, body type and make-up is different and your reaction to radiation may not be the same as another person’s reaction
The staff in the CCHC Regional Cancer Network radiology oncology department works closely with the patients. The process is explained in detail in the first consultation, during which a radiation oncologist describes the short and long-term side effects.
“Patients should always feel comfortable asking their questions,” said Dr. Sullivan. All of the general information is reviewed with the patient again by the oncology staff, and information packets are given to every patient.
Kapinos said she felt safe and taken care of during her treatment and she enjoyed the camaraderie of other patients in the waiting areas. When her treatment ended, Dr. Sullivan recommended that she join the Livestrong at the Y Cancer Survivorship Program, a free 12-week program at the Cape Cod YMCA in Barnstable that includes physical activities, nutrition and social activities for cancer survivors. Kapinos has found it to be a very supportive environment and is enjoying new friendships
“I highly recommend the program,” she said.