Alberta Cancer Foundation

Brachytherapy: A Personal Experience

Danielle Chadwick underwent treatment for ocular melanoma. Photograph by Jayme Ford.

Danielle Chadwick, a mother of two, was planning to try for another baby with her husband when, at a routine eye appointment, her optometrist discovered a troubling freckle on her eye.

Six months later, at a follow-up exam, Chadwick learned the 
freckle had grown. After a series of tests and doctor visits, it was
 determined she had ocular melanoma in her left eye. Family planning was put on hold, as she, instead, went about deciding on cancer treatment.

With the guidance of Dr. Ezekiel Weis, who specializes in oculoplastics, orbit and ocular oncology at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton, she chose to undergo brachytherapy treatment, which was fully funded by the Alberta Cancer Foundation.

After responding extremely well to treatment, Chadwick is now cancer-free, and she and her husband are happily expecting their third child in June. Here, she shares her experience.

as told to Jennifer Dorozio

“I was 30 when I was diagnosed. I got a call from 
Dr. Weis on Dec. 21, 2016, saying it was melanoma. I was completely symptom-free, so it was a shock.

“Dr. Weis told me that treatment was my decision, but without it, the cancer would grow. He said there was no benefit to enucleation [the removal of an eye] over radiation therapy, which would at least leave me with an eye.

“I chose brachytherapy radiation. With the [initial] surgery, they cut your eye away from the eye socket and roll it out and sew a radioactive disk to the back of the eye. Then they put the eye back and leave the disk in for about five days. After that, Dr. Weis removed the disk and did reconstructive surgery on the socket to make the eye look normal again. It was one week in total.

“Initially, I had a small blind spot right by my nose, and more recently, my tumour actually hemorrhaged, and now it’s draining fluid onto my macula so my whole central vision is gone now in that eye.

“At my checkup in June 2016, Dr. Weis told me it looked like the tumour was responding to the radiation, and at my checkup in September, he said he considered the tumour dead.

“I felt a lot of relief. There’s still a risk, so I have to go for a scan yearly and checkups every three months.

“At my three-month checkup was when Dr. Weis gave me the okay to go ahead to try for another baby. Not being able to have another child was one of my largest anxieties of having cancer at my age. So, after finding out I was pregnant, I was almost in disbelief, it felt like such a blessing.

“It’s been such a relief to have this treatment available here for us as Albertans. I look forward to knowing my family is complete and not worrying about my health or my cancer being in the way. I really have had a great team of caregivers, everyone at the Cross Cancer Institute took great care of me, which really helped.”

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