Your Health Today Magazine

Happy Trails

Glenda Devonshire

Glenda enjoys a cup of coffee at the Bike Shop Café in St. Charles before heading out for a ride along the Katy Trail.
Outdoor enthusiast trusts St. Anthony's during her trek through cancer treatment.

Whether it’s hiking or biking or chilling on the beach, Glenda Devonshire finds her true home in nature.

Two years ago, the Oregon native and longtime St. Louisan had just moved back to her beloved Willamette Valley.

“I was jammin’,” Glenda, 60, recalled with a chuckle.

But one morning, she woke up and found it extremely hard to breathe. She suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), so she figured she had pleurisy. Not wanting to be a burden to her Oregon friends, Glenda packed up her PT Cruiser in July 2013 and returned to St. Louis.

“I wasn’t feeling good, I’m telling you,” she said.

On her birthday, she was admitted to St. Anthony’s Emergency Department, where she was diagnosed with a life-threatening condition that required immediate treatment.

“She had a tumor in her right lung that was blocking the major blood vessel, the superior vena cava, in the middle of her chest or mediastinum,” said R. William Morris, M.D., of St. Louis Oncology Associates. Dr. Morris is a 36-year veteran medical oncologist and a member of St. Anthony’s Cancer Care Team.

“The tumor can impair the flow of blood into the heart and back up the blood into the brain – it can make your neck, face and arms swell up, and there’s a high risk for respiratory failure and stroke,” Dr. Morris said. “She was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer, the fastest-growing type. Frequently it will spread to other parts of the body, including the liver, the bones and the brain. It occurs in about 10 percent of all lung cancers.”

Because Glenda was too sick for a biopsy or surgery, she received standard-dose radiation therapy delivered by a linear accelerator, combined with chemotherapy. Faster-growing tumors tend to improve quickly with treatment, Dr. Morris said. After six cycles of chemotherapy and full-dose radiation to her chest over a period of about five months, doctors could find no more cancer: Glenda was in remission.

“Before we stopped treatment, she received what we call PCI, prophylactic cranial irradiation,” Dr. Morris said. “People with small-cell lung cancer frequently develop tumors of the brain: chemotherapy kills cancer cells that are hiding in other parts of the body outside the lung, but does not pass well into the brain. Radiation can kill cancer cells that may still be hiding in the brain, reducing the risk for cancer showing up in the brain to five percent or less.

“Glenda has been a real trooper,” he added. “She knew she had a life-threatening disease, and she was obviously concerned and worried about it. But she hung in there.”

More than two-and-a-half years after the diagnosis, Glenda remains in remission. “The good Lord blessed me with Dr. Morris,” she said. “He’s fabulous. I told him, ‘I don’t do toe tags, so fix me, please.’ And he did. I received fabulous care at St. Anthony’s. Even the housekeeper knows me – they’re like family.”

Glenda’s oldest daughter, Jodi, took care of her after her illness. After a summer filled with outdoor pursuits, including a visit to Elephant Rocks State Park in southeast Missouri, Glenda returned last fall for a routine checkup and was frightened to learn a small spot had been detected on her left lung.

“She has always had some small nodules in the lung that can’t be called malignant and are probably benign, but even a small spot in the lung, if it grows over a short period of time, has to be considered for malignancy,” Dr. Morris said. “Glenda received what we call Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) for a second lung cancer. She received the same amount of radiation usually delivered in 28 standard doses over five to six weeks, delivered precisely to a very small area in three treatments over a week and a half. As of now, the other nodules in the lung haven’t grown. I’m optimistic.”

One month after the treatments ended, Glenda says she’s back to her regular self again.

“After the radiation treatments I was pretty fatigued, but that has passed,” she said. “I’m feeling great.”