(Pictured left to right) Greg Mies, Carrie Cummins, Vithayalai Vue, Kim Thorup, Jim Neihart, Romi Nijjar, Joni Burkhart, Dr. Craig Anderson, Dr. Kelly Rhodes-Stark, Kendra Dwyer
As Kim Thorup's students pass her in the hallway, they probably have no idea her summer wasn't quite as relaxing as theirs. On May 2, the Olathe elementary school principal was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer after finding a lump in her breast during a self-examination. Because of a radiation treatment new to Olathe Health Cancer Center, she's healed and back in her office in time for the first day of school just three months later.
"Being diagnosed with cancer is an earth-shattering and a life-changing event," Kim said. "But from the very beginning I have been in great hands, from my nurse navigator, to Drs. Anderson and Rhodes-Stark, radiation technician and physicists."
Kim knew she wanted to receive her treatment in her hometown, especially after she found out about the breast brachytherapy treatment, a procedure that delivers higher doses of radiation to more specific areas of the body. Kim was the first person to receive the breast brachytherapy treatment at Olathe Health Cancer Center.
The treatment begins after the surgeon performs a lumpectomy, an operation to remove the cancer while leaving as much normal breast as possible. Then a special device is implanted into the lumpectomy cavity through which radiation is delivered to kill off any remaining cancer cells.
Craig Anderson, MD, a surgeon with Olathe Health Midwest Surgical Associates, Kelly Rhodes-Stark, MD, a radiation oncologist at Olathe Health Cancer Center, and Breast Nurse Navigator Kendra Dwyer, BSN, RN, coordinated Kim's treatment. After Dr. Anderson performed surgery to remove the tumor from Kim’s breast, she was ready for the brachytherapy treatment.
“This technology lets us precisely target radiation where it is needed most while minimizing exposure to healthy tissue,” said Dr. Rhodes-Stark. “It also enables us to reduce treatment time down to just five days, compared to four to six weeks with traditional, external beam radiation therapy. Although it’s not a treatment option for every breast cancer patient, brachytherapy is a powerful new tool for us to have on-site for our patients.”
Kim received the treatment twice a day for five consecutive days as an outpatient at the Olathe Health Cancer Center. The radiation oncology team used CT imaging during each procedure to ensure the radiation was delivered to the precise treatment location.
On the fifth day of Kim’s treatment, after her tenth and final brachytherapy procedure, Dr. Anderson removed the catheter device from Kim’s breast. Afterward the entire care team gathered with Kim to celebrate.
“It took a village,” said Kim. “There were some tough times, but their compassion for me was beyond words. I am honored to have been the first one to help get this program started for Olathe.”
To learn more about cancer care, visit olathehealth.org/cancer, or call 913-355-8000.
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