Physician and Mother of Two Fights Breast Cancer with Proton Therapy
Cancer fights hard, so we have to fight harder.
Marian 'Dani' Steininger
Breast Cancer Survivor
Dr. Marian ‘Dani’ Steininger first noticed a lump in her left breast around Christmas-time in 2019. As an obstetrician and gynecologist, Dani knew lumps can come and go so she decided to keep an eye on it. The next week the lump had doubled in size and she thought, “Oh, this must be cancer.” She scheduled a mammogram the next day, which identified a suspicious mass and lymph node. She scheduled an appointment a few days later with a surgeon at Texas Breast Specialists, who did a biopsy. It came back as breast cancer. She then saw a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology, and started chemotherapy a few days after that.
“It needed to be a whirlwind because cancer fights hard, so we have to fight harder. And I think I also have the luxury of being a physician, so I know that time is cancer. We needed to hit it fast. I’m sure it’s a whirlwind for anybody. Cancer is a big pivot. This year, 2020, has been a pivot for my family,” Dani said.
Dani discovered proton therapy as a radiation option when she connected with a local breast cancer survivors group. “A couple of the women said ‘you need to look into proton therapy’ and then I did my own research looking at some of the medical literature. There is no significant difference in recurrence rates or survival rates with traditional radiation versus proton therapy. But, there are differences in morbidities,” Dani said of her research on the treatment option. “[Traditional] radiation has a higher risk of damaging your lungs, and a higher rate of cardiomyopathy (a type of heart disease), especially with left-sided breast cancer.”
Dani brought up proton therapy with her care team while she was still undergoing chemotherapy. Her physician recommended she meet with Dr. Jared Sturgeon at Texas Center for Proton Therapy. After a consultation, Dani’s insurance was swiftly approved, and she began treatment at the proton center.
“They did an incredible job – everyone, from beginning to end – of treating me with dignity and respect. They respected my time. Especially when you’re coming every single day, it’s very important that they respect your time. They also worked with me. My treatment time was 25 minutes every day, and I found it quite hard to hold still for 25 minutes. I was telling Dr. Sturgeon that I’m sitting there thinking ‘don’t breathe, don’t breathe, don’t move, don’t move’ and that’s quite a stressful experience. So, I asked if it was possible to put on some music or to listen to an audiobook and they worked out a way for me to listen to my books while receiving my proton therapy treatment. What a world of difference that made. And, I do know that they didn’t have to listen, and they didn’t have to work through that but the answer I got from Dr. Sturgeon was ‘let me see if that’s something we can do’ – he didn’t say yes or no, he just said ‘I’ll look into it and see if that’s possible.’ Turned out that it was possible. I think even if the answer had been no, just the fact that it was not an automatic no and treating that idea with some respect was incredibly important to me.”
Now, Dani is learning to live with a new title: breast cancer survivor. “It’s different to spend an entire year internalizing this idea that you have cancer and then getting to the end of it all,” said the mom of two, who is enjoying time at home with her family. Dani’s plan now is to take things as they come and continue to pivot with the changes life has ahead. She hopes to serve as an ambassador for anyone researching proton therapy and encourages patients to research their treatment options.
Her advice to those newly diagnosed or living with cancer is that “You are your own best advocate. Remember that your healthcare team members are human. As I tell my patients, ‘I may be an expert in the human body, but you are an expert on your body.’ No one knows what's normal for you like you do. If you think something is not quite right, keep pressing, keep calling, keep asking until you get answers that you are comfortable with. A good healthcare team may not always have the answers you want to hear, but they will listen and help you navigate the system. And don’t forget the power of a heartfelt ‘Thank You.’”
The information included in this testimonial is based on one patient’s unique experience and is not intended to represent all patient outcomes or expectations.