Lexington cancer doctor saving women's lives

Published: Jul. 10, 2017 at 1:16 PM EDT
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It's estimated every six minutes in this country, a doctor diagnoses a woman with gynecologic cancer or cancer of the reproductive organs. Many go through chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation. Now a Lexington cancer doctor is attracting national attention for offering a different treatment. For many of his patients, this treatment is a life saver.

The sound of boxing gloves slamming into some pads echoes through Transformation Fitness in Winchester. But the unlikely boxer is fighting for more than improving her fitness. Last year, Annette Osborne never imagined she'd do this; pushing a blocking sled loaded with a hundred pounds, or holding a plank position.

Annette says, "Oh heck no, no, not at all."

She'd spent five years fighting vaginal cancer, and then lung cancer, enduring chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. She's come a long way.

"I would wash a sink load of dishes... and go sit down for 20 or 30 -minutes because I was so out of breath, and fatigued."

In 2015, Annette learned more cancer had appeared. Typically, when cancer returns after doctors use radiation on a wide area of the body, it's too risky to pound the body with more radiation. Radical surgery seemed the only answer. Annette says her former oncologist had a grim prognosis. "She said, you know you got a raw deal. Just enjoy the time that you've got left." But Annette wasn't ready to give up.

In a small office at the Markey Cancer Center, a doctor that some call a life changer says, "So this is a CAT scan, right here. This is actually her scan."

Annette had heard about a doctor at the Markey Cancer Center doing a different kind of radiation treatment for women with reoccurring, gynecologic cancer.

Dr. Jonathan Feddock points at a computer screen, "And situated right by the bladder, and here's kinda the top of the vagina, and click. This is actually the tumor that had come back in her case."

Dr. Feddock may be on the brink of a cancer treatment breakthrough. Last year, he became one of the first doctors in the US to insert radiation seeds into the tumor of women with gynecologic cancer. He uses a small plastic cup with a clear liquid, and at the bottom of the cup are seeds, which look like pieces of lead from a pencil.

Dr. Feddock says, "If you took a pencil lead and clicked it five times, and broke it off, that's what the seeds would look like."

Instead of hitting the body with large amounts of radiation, Dr. Feddock carefully inserts a small number of radiation seeds directly into the tumor.

He says, "These deliver a very high dose of radiation, but only to a couple of millimeters deep. This ends up doing a very high dose of radiation, right here. With no entrance or exit and minimal dose to the important organs like the rectum or the bladder."

I asked him, "How successful was it with her?"

Dr. Feddock says "Actually it's been very successful. That tumor's gone, and she's over a year now with no sign of it coming back."

Outside the doctor's office, there's a reunion going on. "Welcome back, good to see you again," he says to Annette.

"You too," she says.

Dr. Feddock observes, "You look great. I heard you were at the gym earlier today?" Annette proudly flexes her muscles. She's lost 25-pounds and has loads of energy. She's a long way from the person who was exhausted from washing dishes.

Dr. Feddock is humbled, but when asked, he says, he's successfully treated more than ninety women, including Annette.

I asked Annette, "What's he given you?"

Annette says, " Life. Gave it back." They hug again. Both understand how close she came to not being here.

I remark, "You can't put a price on that, can you?"

Annette says, "No." Her eyes are moist with tears.

Later in his office, I ask the doctor, "Is is overwhelming?"

Dr. Feddock says, "Uh, yeah. Everything in oncology is pretty hard because we deal a lot with death and dying. And this is something where I can take that away for a lot of people...so that's actually very impactful for me." He is also fighting back the tears. Saving a person's life is no small thing.

In the last year, word has spread about Dr. Feddock's treatment and his success. Doctors from cities like Atlanta, Chicago, and Boston have had him train them on the procedure. And women from outside Kentucky, who have reoccurring gynecologic cancer, have come to Lexington to see if they are a candidate for the radiation treatment. Is it a breakthrough? Dr. Feddock says more important than that, he's offering women an option that could extend, even save their life. Just ask Annette Osborne.