EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - Imagine you get a diagnosis of cancer and your treatment extends your life. As you live, new treatments come along and your life is extended ever further. You eventually get a cure.
That may be an overly simplified scenario, but it speaks to the hope and reality of cancer treatment in 2019.
One Evansville woman embodies that hope in a powerful and inspiring way.
“I have a fondness for butterflies,” said Robin Lawrence as she showed us her flower garden.
“I’m targeting Monarchs this year,” she said.
Robin grew up trim and athletic. She even took up competitive body building, an activity she thought was healthy.
All the tanning required to keep her body bronze damaged her skin.
“Three days before I started my job at the cancer center, I found out I had melanoma,” said Robin.
Robin took that job anyway. She educated people about the dangers of tanning, and she promoted screenings for early detection of all kinds of cancer, all while waging a personal war of her own.
Fast forward 20 years, and Robin gets a new diagnosis, worse than the first.
“He said you have five, at that time, five tumors on your liver, and you need an oncologist. Your world changes,” said Robin.
Pain drove her to the doctor.
“He also said he has never seen a liver as bad as mine. He said it was the worst liver he’s ever seen,” said Robin.
Further testing found that the tumors had spread, not from the melanoma, but from new tumors on her anus and rectum.
“You know, you could get mad at it. You could say why me? I’ve gone through melanoma. Isn’t that enough?”
Chemo and immuno-therapy kept Robin out of her garden and sick in bed all of 2018.
When the treatment failed to stop her cancer, it looked like it might be the end.
Then Robin learned about Y-90, radioactive beads injected directly into liver tumors through the bloodstream, a virtual smart bomb aimed at cancer cells.
Dr. Leonid Drozhinin is an interventional radiologist at St. Vincent.
It’s one of the fastest evolving specialties. Every year there are new therapies that are coming down the pipeline, more specific, with lower side effect profile and great affectivity than we’ve ever seen before," said Dr. Drozhinin.
Dr. Drozhinin treated Lawrence with the radioactive beads.
We were there when the latest scans came in, and Robin and her doctor saw them for the first time.
“So the original shows that you have all these sort of explosive tumors throughout the liver,” said Dr. Drozhinin. “So by comparison, all these areas look like they are shrinking and pulling into themselves and a lot less active. Really impressive.”
Robin hopes that with a healthy liver, her primary tumors can be treated and cured, or at least she can get more time.
More time is the future of cancer treatment.
“Not only are we trying to prolong it so you have enjoy the time you have, but things are coming down later, and once we figure them out, hopefully we can apply it to you to keep you going even further,” said Dr. Drozhinin.
In the meantime, a Monarch has arrived in Robin’s garden.
“And I looked at the monarch and I said, that’s where I’m at. You know, what the Monarch goes through, the whole thing it goes through, and then when they think that life is over, and then they are reborn. I can say for the first time in my life, I am authentically me. It took me almost dying to fully live, and it took me almost dying to realize how precious life is,” said Robin.
Now that Robin’s liver tumors are dying, the next step is external beam radiation to try to kill her primary tumors.