By Mercy's Jaclyn Bardin
It has been a long, difficult journey over the last three years as Dom Garrison has battled cancer, heart problems and the unexpected loss of his wife. But in the face of these challenges, Garrison stands strong with a positive outlook on life, thanks, in part, to a lifesaving radiation procedure at Mercy.
In August 2011, doctors discovered that Garrison had esophageal cancer, resulting in a major surgery. In November 2012, he then underwent open-heart surgery to replace his aortic valve. It was in June 2013 that doctors discovered lung cancer through a routine PET scan — just two days after his wife’s funeral.
“I was not a candidate for surgery because I had previous cancer and open-heart surgery within two years of them discovering the lung cancer,” said Garrison, 62, of Oklahoma City. “After my surgeon told me I couldn’t survive a surgery, I didn’t know what to expect. I was afraid I would have to go through chemotherapy and, as weak as my body was, I was very concerned about that.”
At the time, Garrison did not know anything about radiation, especially stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), which saved him treatment time and spared the lung and tissue around the tumor.
“SABR is a highly focused, non-invasive radiation treatment unique in that it gives much higher doses in fewer treatments than standard radiation,” said Dr. Astrid Morrison, a Mercy radiation oncologist. “Rather than patients receiving six or seven weeks of radiation, they get the treatment in three days.”
The treatment features a component called respiratory gating that uses images from a four-dimensional computerized tomography (CT) scan to analyze the motion of the tumor as a patient breathes. Physicians can provide the radiation treatments in sync with the patient’s breathing cycle to better target the tumor and save the surrounding tissue.
Morrison said the SABR treatment is primarily for patients with stage 1 lung cancer and some stage 2 cases, and is more effective than standard radiation. But the key is catching the cancer early to qualify for the treatment.
For people who are not good surgical candidates, like Garrison, the treatment is one of few options to treat their lung cancer.
“SABR was the best option I could have had…and it worked,” said Garrison. “I know they will continue to monitor me for the rest of my life, but for right now we are winning the battle. I just completed my third PET scan since we did SABR and Dr. Morrison informed me that I am 100 percent cancer free.”
Mercy is the fifth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves millions annually. Mercy includes 34 acute care hospitals, four heart hospitals, two children’s hospitals, three rehab hospitals and two orthopedic hospitals, nearly 700 clinic and outpatient facilities, 40,000 co-workers and more than 2,000 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.