In May 2022, Lisa came down with a bad case of COVID-19 and began experiencing a cascade of debilitating breathing problems. “After I had COVID, I was having a lot of difficulty breathing, more so than with normal asthma,” says Lisa. “I would walk up 10 stairs and get extremely winded, as if I had just run a marathon. Sometimes I would get winded just from talking.”
Growing increasingly concerned, Lisa’s pulmonologist ordered several tests and altered her asthma medications, but nothing seemed to help. In December, suspecting that something besides asthma or the effects of having Covid was causing her symptoms, Lisa’s pulmonologist ordered a CT angiogram and delivered the unexpected news.
“My doctor told me they found a 4.2 cm tumor in my mediastinum,” says Lisa. “He suggested I get the tumor removed as soon as possible because it was very close to my heart and lungs. I was shocked to hear this because I had assumed my problems were due to asthma. I never expected I had cancer!”
Thymic cancer is a type of rare cancer that forms in the cells that cover the outside surface of the thymus, a small organ that lies in the upper chest above the heart and under the breastbone. The main treatments for thymic tumors are surgery followed by radiation therapy.
In January 2023, Lisa underwent surgery to remove the tumor, which was diagnosed as Stage 2A thymic cancer, which means the cancer had invaded the fatty tissue surrounding the thymus or the lining of the chest cavity.
“Although my surgeon said the margins were clear and he believed he got everything out, he recommended radiation therapy to kill any remaining cancer cells and lower the risk that the cancer would come back,” says Lisa. “I talked with my husband about it, and we agreed that radiation therapy would give us the peace of mind we needed.”
As Lisa researched her options for radiation therapy, she became worried about its risks and side effects. “The tumor was so close to my heart and lungs, so radiation really frightened me,” says Lisa. “I wanted to find a radiation expert who would provide the most effective treatment possible while minimizing any possible damage to these other organs.”
Lisa recalled an earlier experience with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), one of the New York Proton Center’s partner hospitals. She explored the hospital’s website and found Dr. Charles B. Simone, II, Radiation Oncologist at MSK and Chief Medical Officer of the New York Proton Center, and an internationally recognized expert in treating thymic tumors, lung cancer, and other thoracic malignancies.