—Ali Spain, patient and trail runner
AT MIDLIFE, CANCER WAS THE FARTHEST THING FROM ALI SPAIN’S MIND.
She was at peak performance. She was training for a six-day TransRockies race in the Rocky Mountains. Her summer schedule was packed, and she didn’t want anything stopping her.
The next summer of 2013, she felt a small knot in her armpit. She didn’t think much about it. But by August, it had grown considerably.
After a visit to her personal care physician at the University of Washington Neighborhood Clinic in Woodinville, Ali was referred to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Once there, she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, a very aggressive condition that accounts for about 12 percent of all breast cancers.
“I was shocked,” Ali said. “At the time I was very healthy and fit. I was a runner, and had no family history of cancer. But that was the reality.
When you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, lots of things go through your mind. You think about your family and your children. I thought, ‘How will my daughter grow up without me?’ But I was reassured by Seattle Cancer Care Alliance that I was going to be just fine.”
Because of the cancer’s aggressive nature, the care team at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance decided on a multistep, coordinated approach to treatment.
“When we first met Ali, she was seen by the surgical oncologist, medical oncologist, and myself, the radiation oncologist. We decided at that point that her breast cancer warranted treatment from all three of us,” said Dr. Janice Kim.
First, Ali underwent five months of chemotherapy, which was followed by a mastectomy, six weeks of radiation treatment, and, finally, reconstructive surgery.
Ali was also offered the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial of an oral chemotherapy treatment.
I was surprised because I had a misconception that clinical trials were for people on their third or fourth treatment option, but they’re not. It made me feel like I was using all the tools in the shed,” Ali said. “It also made me feel like I was giving back to a community I was thrown into. If I can help even one person that will go through this in the future, it will give my cancer a purpose.”
Although her treatment regimen lasted a full year, Ali was determined to keep the active life she enjoyed. Working with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance physical therapists, like Elisabeth Tomere, helped get her moving again. “I had to learn to listen to my body, and do everything in moderation. Having cancer forces you to create balance.
“During my treatment, the doctors would ask me, ‘How’s your running going?’ That was kind of an ‘aha’ moment for me, that I could remain active throughout my treatment,” Ali continued. “I started running again shortly after my surgery and continued during my radiation. The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance doctors definitely want you to live your life.
“My family supported me in such a way that I never would have expected and it’s brought us closer together, she continued. “I have a twelve-year-old daughter and I look forward to being active with her for the rest of my life.”
And of course, Ali is back on the trails, enjoying what she loves. “When I run, I’m close to nature and love being one with the woods. I feel free.”
One of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance’s radiation oncologists, Dr. Kim was part of the multistep approach to treating Ali’s aggressive form of breast cancer. Radiation therapy reduced the risk that cancer cells would be left behind after Ali’s surgery and chemotherapy. Dr. Kim believes each breast cancer patient is unique and deserves a thorough, individualized discussion of radiation treatments before choosing the right course of action.
A physical therapist with an oncology specialty, Elisabeth works with patients who have specific issues and impairments arising from cancer treatment. Elisabeth worked with Ali following surgery, restoring her shoulder strength and pushing her recovery forward. “Ali was enthusiastic and motivated during her treatment, and I believe that attitude helped her recovery tremendously.”
As a registered nurse at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Bente helps patients like Ali with skilled assessment, collaboration, and care coordination, answering their questions and listening to their concerns. “I really like to get to know my patients and support them while their cancer is being treated. It’s very rewarding and satisfying. I feel like I’m making a difference helping other people.”
"For each patient, our team of specialists gets in a room to review the entire case. And we don’t leave the room until we’re all in agreement about how we’ll proceed with treatment."
"The two words I’d use to describe Seattle Cancer Care Alliance would be ‘energetic’ and ‘dynamic.’ We’re making advances in both research and cancer care for patients."
"Just walking the halls at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, I feel a special energy coming from everybody. It’s a really positive place, and everyone’s there for the same common goal."
“THERE’S NO OTHER PLACE I WOULD RECOMMEND.”
You’d never know Steve is a three-time cancer survivor. This avid cyclist has been treated at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance with a combination of surgeries that helped him beat the odds.
“I’VE BEEN THREE YEARS CANCER-FREE, AND GOING ON FOUR.”
Jenna was nine years old when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Jenna’s mother Julie remembers asking the doctor, “Do we need to think ‘scary’ or not?”