August 13, 2019
Debbie Bailey makes the 2-hour trip from her home in Chanute, Kansas, to The University of Kansas Cancer Center every week, sometimes bringing homemade salsa for the care team she says is like family to her.
From her first appointment with medical oncologist Priyanka Sharma, MD, she knew it was a drive worth making.
“What impressed me most is you don’t see just one person. At my first appointment, I met with Jamie, two nurses and Dr. Sharma. It’s a thoroughly professional but very personal kind of care, and I’d never experienced anything like it before,” Debbie says.
Debbie and her husband, Jim, are parents of 8, and grandparents of 14. Debbie is an administration officer for the Kansas Department of Transportation in Chanute. Diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2013, she had a mastectomy and chemotherapy treatment in her hometown. When she developed metastatic disease in 2015, she transferred her care to The University of Kansas Cancer Center at the recommendation of a friend.
Team approach to breast cancer care
“From day one, I’ve been incredibly blessed with the most amazing team,” Debbie says. “I have the comfort of knowing that when I’m with Dr. Sharma for those 30 minutes, I’m the most important thing to her. She’s not reading my chart as she walks in the door. She reviews it in-depth before we visit about my next steps.”
During Debbie’s first year of treatment at the cancer center, she’s had several types of chemotherapy to prevent progression of her estrogen positive metastatic breast cancer. A February 2017 scan showed cancer activity in her bones and liver, so Dr. Sharma recommended Debbie participate in a clinical trial.
Clinical trials are one reason cancer patients come to the cancer center, which is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the region and 1 of only 53 nationwide.
“We are always investigating new drugs, new approaches and new ways of giving treatment so it’s better tolerated by our patients,” Dr. Sharma says. “We have lots of treatment options and several trials, whether it’s a patient with curable cancer or metastatic disease – which isn’t curable, but is controllable for long periods of time.”
Patients also come to the cancer center for its multidisciplinary approach and specialized care. Physicians who specialize in one type of cancer stay ahead of the latest research and treatment advances, for the benefit of their patients.
“Our singular focus gives us a more granular understanding of treatment approaches and the art of treating metastatic disease, as well as the science. It helps us provide better care to our patients,” says Dr. Sharma.
Targeted breast cancer treatment
Debbie is participating in a clinical trial that involves targeted therapy. While general chemotherapy attacks all forms of cancer, targeted therapy attacks the biological abnormalities that fuel a particular type of cancer. Research showed Debbie’s tumor has the specific abnormality the trial drug was designed to target, so Dr. Sharma describes it as a “perfect match.”
Debbie has been responding well to the experimental drug and continues to make weekly visits to the cancer center, sometimes driving in twice a week and always with her parents by her side.
"My husband is self-employed and can't be with me during my treatments, but he takes care of me once I'm home," says Debbie. "He is amazing and provides me so much support."
Debbie stayed in her hometown for her treatment when she was first diagnosed because it was convenient. If she had to do it over again, she said she would start where she is now: at The University of Kansas Cancer Center.
“I’ve gone to 5 different locations for treatment, tests and procedures, and the level of personal care at every site has been consistent,” she says. “I’ve never experienced the kind of medical care I’m getting now.”
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This individual participated in a clinical trial of an investigational treatment. Clinical trials are different from standard medical care. As with all research studies, clinical trial participant outcomes vary. Before participating in a clinical trial, it is important to discuss the risks and benefits with your healthcare provider.