When Melissa Lengthy arrived for her remaining chemotherapy remedy for stage 3 breast most cancers, she took a deep breath, tried to stem her mounting nervousness – after which settled in for the journey of a lifetime.
Or extra exactly, the journey for his life.
The 47-year-old Aurora resident placed on a pair of digital actuality (VR) goggles and along with her companion Kevin Welsh by her facet, she traveled the world on a digital tour that helped her distracting herself from the great terror she confronted after a fruits of a 12 months of adverse medical remedy.
As he held a “flying” laptop pill and chosen numerous locations, Lengthy’s physique by no means left the reclined padded seat on the third ground of the UCHealth Lone Tree Medical Center.
VR throughout most cancers remedy
She traveled to Antarctica, the place a colony of playful penguins made her giggle; to a gurgling stream that sparked recollections of beloved Colorado mountain hikes; to a serene seashore that reminded him of his childhood close to Lake Michigan; at a swamp recreation the place alligators had been biting at his ft.
“I swear it instantly transported me to a greater, happier place,” she mentioned. “For me, it was so cool. The VR expertise actually took me there.
This simulated trip gave him some well-deserved moments of respite and escape after a 12 months of darkness and despair. Describing herself as a Sort-A go-getter, she was extra accustomed to spending her summers climbing the state’s 14ers and her winters snowboarding.
“It was an actual journey. However there have been additionally some upsides to my expertise. I really feel so blessed that we landed at UCHealth and have an incredible workforce – they had been phenomenal.
Lengthy is a strategic account supervisor for HOKA, a sports activities firm that manufactures trainers designed particularly for stability in tough terrain. Her life has been equally examined over the previous 16 months, as she has needed to navigate by way of bumps, curves and low valleys earlier than glimpsing the mountains once more.
Sidelined and blinded by most cancers
It was March 2021, and whereas she hoped Covid-19 vaccines may deliver some normalcy again to her each day life, Lengthy felt a lump in her left breast. She had simply turned 46 and as a result of her age and wholesome life-style, she hoped for one of the best. However she had cause to fret: her paternal grandmother died of ovarian most cancers aged 47 and her paternal aunt died of breast most cancers aged 43.
After a sequence of checks together with mammograms, ultrasounds, biopsies, breast MRIs, genetic testing, echocardiograms, a CT scan from neck to pelvis and a full bone scan, the information confirmed her worst fears: Lengthy had most cancers. stage 3C triple unfavorable breast. . The most cancers had unfold to close by lymph nodes and was categorised as grade 3, that means the cells had been “rising aggressively”, the docs mentioned. She additionally examined optimistic for the BRCA1 gene mutation, which places her at elevated threat of breast or ovarian most cancers recurring in her lifetime.
She ended up within the custody of Dr Virginia Borgeswho makes a speciality of younger ladies with breast most cancers in UCHealth Diane O’Connor Thompson Breast Center on the Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.
Borges and his workforce of caring suppliers outlined a remedy routine that included medicine, radiation and surgical procedure to combat his most cancers.
“We caught him in time. It was nonetheless scary,” Lengthy mentioned.
Whereas on a summer season journey with Welsh to see household in northern Michigan, the couple determined to place their sickness behind them for a couple of weeks as they loved the splendor of the world’s pure magnificence in a van lease.
Painful most cancers remedies made simpler with digital actuality
After returning to Denver, Lengthy started a grueling medical routine that included two kinds of chemotherapy in addition to immunotherapy, which left her feeling nauseous, exhausted and weak. Immunotherapy is usually used with chemotherapy as a approach to make use of a affected person’s personal immune system to combat most cancers.
His suppliers had been inspired, however the battle took its toll. She misplaced her urge for food, her attribute power, her lovely mane of black hair. Her remedies had been halted when she had allergic reactions to the highly effective medicine, and he or she ended up within the ER greater than as soon as with low white blood cell counts and battling excessive fevers.
Lastly, as she neared the tip of vital chemotherapy remedies, she confronted one final enemy: adriamycin. Nicknamed the “crimson satan” for its efficiency and cough syrup colour, the drug has a well-deserved repute for making sufferers nauseous. This newest spherical of chemo hit her more durable than the earlier ones, even with the medicine the nurses gave her to scale back unwanted effects.
“Not all chemotherapy medicine are created equal,” mentioned Shannon Tejchma, nurse in cost on the hospital. UCHealth Lone Tree Infusion Center. “Adriamycin is a really efficient drug, however sadly it could make sufferers very sick. It is the very last thing we would like, particularly when we have now the instruments to make a distinction.
That is the place Lengthy’s digital odyssey started.
“The thought behind utilizing digital actuality is to completely distract sufferers, rework them and switch them to a different dimension: to the seashore, within the woods or just to a spot the place their thoughts is elsewhere”, mentioned Tejchma. “They will flip themselves into what they’re taking a look at, fairly than a nurse pushing chemo into their IV.”
VR know-how soothes sufferers
UCHealth has been providing digital actuality for 4 years to boost the affected person expertise and enhance total well being and well-being, mentioned Nicole Caputo, UCHealth Senior Director, Expertise Innovation.
Since then, UCHealth has delivered greater than 17,000 experiments on every thing from distraction remedy for sufferers receiving chemotherapy or different infusion medicines, to make use of for burn sufferers, and by wound care suppliers. and pre-surgery.
“We put this gadget on their head and take them someplace else,” Caputo mentioned. “The know-how is infinite and there are such a lot of alternatives for us to make use of it.”
For Lengthy, the thought of utilizing digital actuality to assist tame her nervousness earlier than her chemo remedy was interesting. And when Tejchma handed her the glasses and with Welsh as her digital driver, she was in a position to shake off the stress that had gripped her throughout earlier intervals on the infusion clinic.
“It appeared to distract her from her speedy fears and let her calm down a bit throughout her process and infusion instances,” Welsh mentioned.
Attain the highest once more
Lengthy’s subsequent surgical procedure – a double mastectomy and the removing of a part of her left lymph node, introduced her again to actuality. However this time the information was higher than she might have imagined. The pathology report confirmed no indicators of most cancers within the tissue that was eliminated.
Now she balances her optimism with the information of what’s but to come back: month-to-month immunotherapy infusions by way of September, reconstructive surgical procedure and later this 12 months the removing of her ovaries and fallopian tubes as a result of prognosis of BRCA1. She may even seemingly be on a beta-blocker indefinitely because of the cumulative impact of the medicine on her coronary heart.
However Lengthy is set to turn into the particular person she was earlier than discovering the lump, earlier than chemotherapy remedies, earlier than being recognized with BRCA1, earlier than coronary heart illness. Maybe even After than earlier than. She is, in any case, a University of Michigan graduate, the place the mascot is the courageous Spartan warrior/athlete.
She has a number of followers supporting her: her household, her pals and the Welshman, who was by her facet through the lengthy battle.
“Witnessing her spirit, her combat and her willpower has been unbelievable to look at and be part of – she is a miracle,” he mentioned. “You’ve got this child!”
And along with her hair rising again simply as thick and darkish as earlier than, she’s decided to get again within the area too, as quickly as attainable if she has a say in it.
She appears at a photograph from final summer season, when she was smiling, surrounded by girlfriends who climbed along with her to the 14,265ft summit difficult peak.
“I take a look at this picture to remind myself how sturdy I used to be. I nonetheless need to climb mountains. I instructed my girlfriends, subsequent 12 months I shall be there for positive.”