Peggy Bongard, Oncology Patient

Peggy Bongard - Riverdale, MI

"I was in the best hands possible, I had the best care possible and I was exactly where I was supposed to be."

She Received 'World-Class' Cancer Treatment from an Outstanding Care Team

Peggy Bongard remembers exactly when the pain started. "I was driving home one night near the end of March when all of a sudden, I felt a sharp pain in my arm," she said. "I thought perhaps I'd done something to my back."

The pain did not go away; it got worse. "I had severe nerve pain, truly severe," she said. "It was horrific. It was in my back, in the shoulder blade, in the armpit and down the arm."

Peggy's primary care physician thought she had a problem with one of her ribs. "I was sent to physical therapy, had acupuncture and then saw a chiropractor," she said. "Nothing worked."

Peggy, a branch manager for a local credit union, still went to work every day but it was a struggle. "I rigged an ice pack to my underwear and ran it down my sleeve," she said. "The pain was excruciating and it was 24/7. Nothing stopped it."

"One day I couldn't stand it anymore and I went to the Emergency Department at MyMichigan Medical Center Mt. Pleasant," Peggy said. Staff there did a CT scan and found a mass in her lung. "It was sitting on the nerves – that was the source of the pain."

She was diagnosed with small cell lung cancer. She was referred to Medical Oncologist and Hematologist Tannu Sahay, M.D., at the Cancer Center in Mt. Pleasant. After seeing her, Dr. Sahay contacted Radiation Oncologist Mark Fireman, M.D. Things moved quickly from there. "They got me in for an immediate consult so we could get things moving," Peggy said. "Dr. Fireman and his staff were right on it. I couldn’t have asked for more."

Surgery was not an option in Peggy's case because of the type and position of the cancer. Her treatment plan called for radiation five times a week and chemotherapy three times each week.

She soon began receiving treatment at MyMichigan Alma Cancer Center, a comprehensive facility offering both radiation and medical oncology services. "I started chemo on July 6 and had my first radiation treatment on July 11."

Peggy was treated with new cancer-fighting technology: the TrueBeam™ Radiotherapy System. This innovative system can deliver more powerful cancer treatments with pinpoint accuracy and precision.

The system's advanced imaging capabilities allow radiologists and technicians to see the treatment areas with greater clarity. "We can be confident we are treating the exact spot before we turn on the beam," said Courtney Friedle, manager of radiation oncology at MyMichigan Health. "Because we can target the beam with greater precision, we can also increase the power of the beam to the tumor, while minimizing damage to surrounding tissue."

More power also means that treatments can be delivered more quickly. Simple treatments that once took 15 minutes or more can be completed in less than two minutes once the patient is in position.

Friedle said the TrueBeam even recognizes and makes allowances for motion. For example, while treatment plans allow for a patient to breathe, if a patient takes a deeper breath than expected, the system will recognize the exception, turn off and wait for the patient to return to the expected breathing pattern.

While her treatment plan was aggressive, Peggy was surprised, and delighted, by the upbeat atmosphere at the Cancer Center. "Ryan and Chris, who work in the radiation area, are two of the most amazing people I've ever met in my life. They were always encouraging and positive," she said. "Dawn and Allison, two of the nurses I worked with, are outstanding."

Peggy worked hard to keep a positive attitude, even though the total treatment experience was very hard on her body. "The people there were great and did an excellent job, but chemo is rough," she said. "I didn't have any problems with radiation until near the end."

Although the treatments were difficult, Peggy knew they were working. The ever present, overwhelming pain that threatened to crush her had diminished. "It started to fade after the first couple of weeks," she said.

Some people questioned her choice to seek treatment close to home. Peggy, however, was convinced that she'd made the right choice.

"I was fully confident in what they were doing for me," she said. "I was in the best hands possible, I had the best care possible and I was exactly where I was supposed to be."

In fact, Peggy wonders why people would go anywhere else for treatment. "The people were fabulous, all of them," she said. "We would laugh and joke and if I wasn't feeling well, that was okay. They are the kindest souls and very dear to me."

Peggy said dealing with cancer and intense treatment is a family affair, not a solo act. "It wasn't just my battle; we were all in this together," she said of her husband, Rusty, daughter Orion, son Bernie and his wife Beth, and granddaughter Eva Mae. "My daughter took me to 90 percent of my appointments. I could not have done it without her and the rest of my support system. I'm glad I stuck close to home and I'm grateful things worked out for me."

Going forward, the next step is radiation to the brain as a preventive measure. "I'm anticipating good reports and I'm going into the next treatments with confidence," Peggy said. "Knowing who will be giving me the treatments makes it all okay."

Peggy Bongard's story is just one example of MyMichigan's advanced technology and expertise for cancer treatment. Those who would like more information may visit www.mymichigan.org/cancer.

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