When Jeanette Priest was diagnosed with breast cancer at the tender age of 39, she opted for a double mastectomy in hopes of avoiding radiation treatment.

And while things didn’t work out exactly as she’d hoped, Priest discovered proton therapy, a treatment that’s allowed her to maintain a busy life of work and motherhood and help ensure she remains cancer-free in the years to come.

Thirty-nine years old, a mother of two and sales representative for the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, Priest discovered a lump in her breast while showering one day—a “complete fluke,” she calls it—and ultimately discovered she had stage 1 ductal carcinoma.

“It was a devastating blow,” she says. “I had no family history. The whole thing is scary. And then I just decided, ‘Okay, let’s do this. We’re just going to check this off the list.’ You just do it. I don’t have another option.”

When the initial surgery failed to remove the cancer, she came to Dr. George Webber with the Knoxville Comprehensive Breast Center, who recommended further surgery followed by proton therapy.

“I didn’t know a lot about proton therapy,” Priest says. “But after meeting with the doctors at Provision, I was completely sold. I sell a cardiovascular drug, so I’m very familiar with that part of the body and how conventional radiation would damage my heart and lungs. I thought, ‘There’s no way I can do anything but proton therapy.’”

However, for Priest, the cancer journey has been an exercise in patience and endurance. It took a total of three surgeries to remove the initial tumor with adequate margins to prevent its spread. Then, her insurance company refused to cover proton therapy—in spite of her age and the fact the cancer was located in her left breast, near to vulnerable organs.

Although her case is still on appeal with the insurance company, Priest decided to go ahead with treatment at Provision whether Aetna approved it or not.

“Because of my girls, because I’m so young, I wanted to give myself the best possible chance at a long, full life,” she says. “I may be in debt, but it’s worth it.”

And while proton therapy is a form of radiation therapy, concentrated to target only the tumor while sparing surrounding healthy tissue, Priest says she hasn’t experienced significant side effects with the treatment and has been able to carry on with regular life.

“I don’t feel sick,” she says. “I don’t feel like I have cancer.”

The level of personal support at Provision has also helped make cancer therapy feel less clinical and more comfortable, she says.

“The people have been outstanding,” Priest says. “I feel like everybody knows who I am. Everyone takes such good care of me. It makes me feel like this really is no big deal.”

During treatment, Priest has continued to take her girls to school, go to the gym, play tennis and work.

“It’s life as usual for the most part,” she says.




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