Inner Strength, the Right Team, and Protons Fuel a Michigan Woman's Brave Breast Cancer Battle

Author: Leslie Toldo

After a routine annual mammogram, Tami Springer got the call no woman wants to receive: She needed more testing. 

“This was the fourth time I’ve been called back for a second mammogram since I first started getting screened,” Tami said.  “This was the first time I needed a biopsy.  They were also suspicious of one of my lymph nodes, and they biopsied both.”

Tami got the results at her first appointment with her new primary care doctor, Kinjalben Patel, MD, at McLaren Flint’s Family Residency program.

“Dr. Patel told me I had invasive ductal carcinoma.  She didn’t say cancer, but I knew what it was,” Tami said.  “I didn’t start crying. I just wanted to know what was next.”

That was on March 7, 2023.  On April 3, Tami went in for surgery.  The question was whether she would have a lumpectomy or a mastectomy.  Genetic testing revealed Tami did not carry a breast cancer gene mutation, but there was a family history.

“My mom had breast cancer.  My older sister also had invasive ductal carcinoma,” Tami said. 

While Tami’s sister had a double mastectomy, after talking with Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint, breast surgeon Dr. Ashley Richardson and assessing her risks, Tami opted for a lumpectomy.

Less than a month had passed between Tami’s diagnosis and surgery. In that short time, one thing became very clear to Tami.  She truly had a team fighting right beside her.

“Everybody, all of the doctors, were clearly working together for me,” Tami said.

Radiation oncologist Dr. Christian Hyde joined that team for the next phase of Tami’s breast cancer journey – radiation treatments.  Instead of treating Tami with traditional X-ray beams, Dr. Hyde treated Tami with protons, which can deliver focused doses of radiation with potentially less risk of damage to healthy tissue and organs.

“We were able to help avoid her heart using proton therapy, which is sometimes needed when we are treating the lymph nodes near critical organs like the heart,” Dr. Hyde said.

Traditional X-ray beams enter the body, travel through the cancer, and out the other side, leaving an exit dose of radiation.  Protons enter the body, travel to the cancer, then stop, without exiting.  This is especially important for patients like Tami, with left-sided breast cancers, which are close to the heart.  The risk of long-term heart damage and other side effects may be lower with protons.

“Dr. Hyde explained everything so well,” Tami said. “There was no doubt in my mind proton therapy was a much better option.” 

Tami had treatments at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center five days a week for 28 weeks.

“The staff were always smiling. They were happy, and I could tell they liked their jobs,” Tami said. “They made you believe they were going to take care of you.”

She was very tired throughout the treatment process, but Tami did not suffer any other serious side effects.

“She got through the treatments better than I expected, and bounced back pretty quickly afterward,” Dr. Hyde said.

Now she wants to share her story and her strength with other women facing a battle with breast cancer.

“Keep the faith. Ask questions. You’re in charge of your own healthcare. I had to ask questions. I wanted to know. The more you know, the more in control you will feel in a situation you don’t have control over,” Tami said.

To learn more about proton therapy and whether you might be a candidate, visit