Checking All the Boxes: Breast Cancer patient Chooses Proton Therapy

Right before her seven-year anniversary of being cancer free, Andrea Thompson received another breast cancer diagnosis.

"This time, it was more aggressive than the first disease," said Andrea. "It was triple negative "“ the first time it was hormone positive."

She was first diagnosed in 2013 with cancer in her right breast. Andrea went through reconstructive surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. In 2019, after having her annual mammogram, she was recalled and had to have additional scanning and testing. Since her hormone receptor status was different and quite a bit of time had passed since her first diagnosis, Andrea's cancer care team believed this was a new cancer in her right breast.

Andrea knew she did not want to go through the same cancer treatments as before. In particular, she was worried about her recovery time.

"I'm a very active person," she explained. "After receiving surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, I felt it took a long time for me to regain my health in a way that was satisfactory to me."

To begin her treatment plan, Andrea agreed to have a mastectomy, but she did not want to have radiation treatments as recommended by her cancer care team at the time. She was concerned about exposing the same breast that was treated with X-rays in the past to more radiation.

Andrea started researching and learned about proton therapy and the McLaren Proton Therapy Center. She was sold on the idea of a treatment that is targeted and spares surrounding healthy tissue from radiation. She picked up the phone and spoke with Nicole Cygnar, the proton patient navigator.

"She was very caring, kind and just a wonderful person to talk to," said Andrea. "Nicole followed through with everything she said she would. For cancer patients, or anyone that's battling disease, that's important to not have to keep making phone calls to get answers."

When Andrea came to the McLaren Proton Therapy Center for her consultation, she met her new radiation oncologist, Omar Gayar, MD. He agreed that proton therapy was the best choice for Andrea's new cancer.

"Andrea's case was unique in that she needed re-irradiation to help treat her breast cancer," explained Dr. Gayar. "Proton beam therapy was excellent for use in her care. We could treat her with the fullest capability and spare delivery of the dose to her lung and heart, while diminishing the risk of side effects and complications for retreatment."

Andrea described Dr. Gayar as a patient-centered physician.

"Dr. Gayar listens, which is very important to anyone. He explained the process of proton therapy treatments, so I knew exactly what I was getting into," said Andrea. "I even saw my husband get teary-eyed during that visit. It was like we knew we were in good hands."

"I wanted to make sure Andrea and her husband felt understood and that they understood everything involved in her care," said Dr. Gayar.

From her initial consultation, she knew proton therapy was the next step in her treatment plan.

"When you're looking at having a diagnosis, you want to feel reassured, you want to feel hope and you want to feel that you're being taken care of," said Andrea. "They understand the place that you're in at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center. This place checked all the boxes for me."

In Andrea's case, she not only received a breast cancer diagnosis twice, but her mother passed away from metastatic breast cancer at the age of 60. Andrea's quest to find a treatment option that fit her needs and health goals as a patient was her way of taking ownership of her health care path. She encourages other women to interview their doctor when given treatment options, research those options, and choose what is best for them.

"Make sure the people you choose are going to be your support system and give you hope. And make sure you get rest, eat well and do what's best for you to take care of yourself, whether you stay active, meditate or pray," added Andrea.

For more information, visit To schedule a consultation or to get a second opinion, call Nicole, the proton therapy patient navigator at (855) 697-7686.