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A suspicious rash. A life upended.

Everything was going well for Haley Desetta, a culinary school graduate who for five years had been working in New York City as an Italian wine salesperson and specialist.

 

Until one day, when she noticed a very light rash on one of her breasts.

 

A clinician at her local women’s health clinic suspected it might be cat scratch fever and prescribed her antibiotics. But the rash actually turned out to be “peau d’orange,” a thickening and elevation of the skin that often is—and in Haley’s case was—caused by inflammatory breast cancer, a rare and aggressive form of the disease.

Haley first underwent a difficult five-month course of chemotherapy that resulted in the loss of all of her hair.

 

“I could have been really sad about that,” she said. “But instead, my motto was, ‘let’s make this fashionable.’ As it turned out, I was very comfortable being bald, rocking crazy sunglasses and earrings.”

 

After undergoing a mastectomy, Haley found herself facing the prospect of traditional photon radiation. But she was deeply worried about its possible side effects, most troublesome to her—given that she was only 32—the potential for cardiac complications later in life.

 

Fortunately, a radiation oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center instead referred her to the New York Proton Center (NYPC).

 

“When I learned about proton therapy, it sounded really amazing,” Haley said. “It’s better, it’s safer, it works. And I wanted to be part of it, not only to benefit myself but also to help establish protons as the new standard of care.”

 

“It’s all about the future,” she said.

The warm embrace of a kindhearted staff.

Haley describes her first radiation session at NYPC as a difficult and “very vulnerable” experience—alone in the treatment room, arms immobilized above her head for 20 minutes straight, holding her breath for long stretches at a time.

 

“It was a total mind-trip, psychological and physical. And I was thinking, I don’t know if I can get through this.”

 

But she did—in large part due to the incredible staff at NYPC. They welcomed her with a warmth and positivity that she found not just reassuring but also infectious.

 

“It was motivation, it was support. The truth is, the staff really got me through my treatment. They were so wonderful and welcoming,” she said.

 

Haley also met regularly with NYPC’s Clinical Director and her radiation oncologist, Dr. J. Isabelle Choi—whom she affectionately refers to as the “head honcho.”

 

“Obviously, she’s brilliant. But even more important, she’s at the forefront of the future of medicine. Just amazing. I was incredibly impressed by her.

 

“She called me a ‘personable person’ and said I had a great energy about me. I was like, ‘Oh, Dr. Choi, thank you, that’s very sweet.’”

 

“The resilience that Ms. Desetta displayed and the positivity she exuded were truly inspiring,” said Dr. Choi. “As a young woman experiencing the challenges of her diagnosis and the treatment it required, she had an uncanny ability to step back and find a positive path down which to travel during her journey, and to articulate her views with sincerity and humor. She is an inspiration to all of us.”

 

Haley also participated in a national breast cancer clinical trial, hoping to translate her own painful experience into something beneficial for others facing her predicament. Known as RadComp, the trial compares the efficacy of proton therapy to traditional photon radiation for patients with locally advanced breast cancer.

 

“It’s the ultimate way to give back,” she said. “A really invaluable gift.”

Hope rekindled, faith restored.

With her treatment now behind her, Haley is embracing life with renewed optimism and, even more important, with profound gratitude.

 

“After getting proton therapy, patients always say thank you. But having gone through what I went through, it really became clear what that means.

 

“Basically, it’s all about the future. Last year I was just trying to survive. But now, it’s almost like I’m re-learning to live in every sense.”

How can we help?

Want to find out if proton therapy might be a good fit for you or your patient? Call us at 833-NYPROTON (833-697-7686) or fill out the appropriate form below.