Nurse helps mother find rare cancer treatment

Nurse helps mother find rare cancer treatment

Sabrina Lindley had been working as a nurse trainee at UT Southwestern for only four months when she got the news. Her mother, Deborah Sexauer, was battling for her life – again.

After first being diagnosed with colon cancer in 2014, Ms. Sexauer, who lives in California, underwent traditional treatment including surgery and 12 rounds of chemotherapy. However, the cancer returned in November 2016, so she began looking for an experimental treatment on the advice of her oncologist.

Back in Dallas, through her rotations at William P. Clements Jr. and Zale Lipshy University Hospitals, Ms. Lindley sought advice from her colleagues on ways to help her mother.

“I wanted to spend more time with my mom, who was going through these difficult treatments, and also help her find a treatment that would work for her,” Ms. Lindley said. “So after speaking about this with some of my coworkers at UT Southwestern, I heard multiple times that I should refer her to Dr. Polanco.”

Dr. Patricio Polanco, surgical oncologist and Assistant Professor of Surgery, performs a heated chemotherapy treatment called Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC). The treatment has been shown to improve quality of life and prolong survival for patients whose cancer has spread to the abdominal organs.

Before the specialized chemotherapy treatment is administered, Dr. Polanco performs cytoreductive surgery, which removes visible tumors in the abdominal cavity. Dr. Polanco then administers the chemotherapy solution, which is heated to the temperature of a warm bath, into the abdominal cavity, where it is gently agitated for 90 minutes. Heating the chemotherapy solution improves absorption by tumor cells that might remain in the belly, Dr. Polanco said. He then drains the solution and the incision is closed.

“It all fell into place perfectly,” Ms. Sexauer said. “It was like divine intervention, that I could get this rare treatment and also be with my daughter.”

Ms. Sexauer’s passion for keeping fit also made her a good candidate for HIPEC. After her cancer returned in 2015, she had stepped up her fitness conditioning and eventually worked her way into a group training for the Spartan obstacle course races. The race involves obstacles such traversing monkey bars, scaling walls, and climbing across nets. She’s already completed one such race and is back training for another she plans to take part in this March.

“Considering her initial stage 4 colon cancer, training for and participating in this race is a major achievement, and an inspiration to others, including myself,” Dr. Polanco said. “The idea of being able to give advanced stage cancer patients the possibility of resuming and enjoying life again is our ultimate goal in cancer care.”

Ms. Sexauer still has stage 4 colon cancer, but the combination of surgery and intra-abdominal chemotherapy treatment bought her cancer-free time – quality time – for her “celebration of life” obstacle race.

“The surgery was hard. I have an incision up my entire abdomen and they removed a lot,” said Ms. Sexauer, 47. “But now I feel amazing, and I’m ready to get back out and hopefully I’m ready to do another Spartan race.”

Ms. Sexauer was also able to attend her daughter’s graduation from the nursing training program in July 2017, among many of the nurses who aided her during treatment.