Check many people’s must-do list, and skydiving might very well be there. For Donna Southard, it was one of two feats she accomplished in a single day, two milestones that she thought might not be possible.
The other? Celebrating her 50th birthday. As a cancer survivor, turning 50 was momentous.
Donna’s cancer journey started when she felt a knot in her neck and sought medical help. Despite her youth and being active, Donna was diagnosed with advanced-stage lung cancer.
After investigating many care options, Donna decided on Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, even though it was a two-and-a-half-hour trip, each way, from their home in Victoria, Virginia.
“I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” said Donna. “When it came time to decide where I was going to go, I thought about my family and friends who had had positive experiences with the hospital in the past, so I decided to go for it myself.”
Getting down to work
The doctors at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital evaluated her case.
“We immediately started an aggressive treatment plan for her,” said Dr. Sylvia Hendrix, radiation oncologist. “We used advanced techniques and put Donna through several rigorous months, and at the end of it all, she was in the clear.”
A year later, the cancer reappeared in Donna’s brain.
Her care team recommended an innovative technique known as stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS).
SRS is an advanced radiation treatment that uses a single dose of radiation administered with extreme precision to a brain lesion. There is minimal radiation exposure for the surrounding normal brain tissue.
“I trusted my doctors completely,” said Donna. “I was encouraged by the fact that they all worked together — it really felt like a team effort on their part — as well as by the fact that they included my family and me in that team.”
Donna drove many miles for her care, and also continued working and completing an online associate’s degree.
“Part of what made it so easy for me was having such a great care team. Dr. Hendrix was the coolest doctor I’ve ever met,” Donna says. “We’d joke around, and she’d laugh with me. I trusted her with my life, and I knew that she and the rest of the team spent hours putting together my treatment plan.”
Donna is back to living life as she did before her diagnosis. A few weeks after she received the SRS treatment, a scan confirmed that the radiation had worked. She had three different tumors targeted during treatment. When the results came back, two were gone, and the third had been reduced in size so much that it was no longer a worry.
“I was so relieved to find out the treatment had worked,” reflected Southard.