Michelle Reyes was diagnosed with cancer in her right breast three years ago after she discovered a lump during a self-exam. Initially stunned by the unexpected news, Reyes, only 29 at the time, rallied quickly when her Scripps physicians explained that cancer was only a word — and that she could beat it.
“From that point on, my entire world changed,” says Reyes. “I put my trust in my Scripps cancer care team. As a patient, I was frazzled and scared, and needed to be able to have that trust. Now, I tell everyone that surviving cancer is my own miracle.”
Members of Reyes’ health care team included oncologist Joan Kroener, MD; Pamela Kurtzhals, MD; and Ray Lin, MD, along with her nurses and therapists.
Reyes maintains that the easiest part of her treatment, which included chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, was radiation therapy at Scripps Green Hospital, which provides progressive radiation techniques in a state-of-the-art environment that focuses on patient support and education. She received 39 treatments for about 10 to 15 minutes at a time during a six-week period.
“Everyone there is so happy — from the front desk receptionist to the radiation therapists and my radiation oncologist, Dr. Lin,” says Reyes. “I always looked forward to seeing them, every Monday through Friday at 7 a.m. They were incredibly organized and made me feel so at ease.”
“Michelle really is an inspiration,” says Dr. Lin, medical director of radiation oncology at Scripps Clinic and Scripps Green Hospital. “She showed so much maturity, way beyond her years, and courage undergoing therapy. She always had a smile.”
At Scripps Cancer Center, cancer patients like Reyes have a network of advanced care at their fingertips. The first multihospital cancer program in California to receive the prestigious Network Cancer Program Accreditation from the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer, Scripps Cancer Center provides patients with access to cancer care resources across the Scripps system.
While Reyes received external radiation — in which machines direct radiation from the environment into the body — other state-of-the-art radiation services, including image-guided radiation therapy, three-dimensional radiotherapy and brachytherapy, allow radiation to be administered internally.
Reyes was so inspired by her radiation team that she shadowed radiation therapists at Scripps Green for the day and hopes to eventually become a radiation therapist herself.
“Shadowing the therapists gave me a whole new perspective on radiation treatment,” says Reyes. “I was able to use my experience as a scared, anxious patient to reassure other patients that they had chosen the best care possible. It was a very empowering experience and showed me a way that I can give back by becoming a radiation therapist myself. I have made the journey back to health, and now it is my turn to help other patients make their own journeys.”
Reyes has already started on her journey to help other patients. Completing radiation treatment was a milestone, and she thought some type of gesture should mark “graduation” for every patient. Now, a bell hangs in the treatment rooms. Once a patient has completed treatment, the patient rings the bell, commemorating a joyful day and a sense of accomplishment.
In addition, Reyes created a website to chronicle her journey with cancer and provide comfort and hope to fellow patients. She has also raised more than $10,000 for cancer research through an annual breast cancer walk.
“It truly is a magical world,” says Reyes. “I have been given a second chance, and I want to help others have their second chance.”