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PostPosted: Wed Mar 31, 2010 10:38 am 
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20-year brain cancer survivor, completes final radiation treatment at the D'Amour Center for Cancer Care with 'no evidence of clinically active disease'

An ongoing miracle walked out of Baystate Health’s D’Amour Center for Cancer Care today amid laughter, hugs and the attention of several media cameras.

It was the final radiation treatment for Northampton resident Donna Baker, a 20-year survivor of brain cancer.

“I have never seen this before,” said Dr. Michael J. Yunes, director of stereotactic radiosurgery in the Baystate Regional Cancer Program.

“Individual patients do not always follow the statistics and she is testimony to that. She has beaten the odds many times for many years.”

As Baker headed with reporters for her last round of radiation under the linear accelerator, Yunes said she has “no evidence of clinically active disease.”

This does not mean she is cancer free; it will mean she must continue to be monitored in hopes of "keeping this chronic disease under control for many more years."

"We're under no illusions that it's cured," Yunes cautioned.

Yunes describes Baker as having become something of a legend at the D’Amour center for her outgoing personality and for trying to sneak in her three-year-old English bulldog, Lilly, while she was undergoing treatment.

He said she has no cognitive impairments despite the fact her tumor had started to grow in a more tentacle-like fashion.

He attributed her longevity to improvements in technology that allow for directing higher doses of radiation more precisely to targeted cancer cells as well as what he called Baker’s “tremendous outlook.”

“She has a supportive network of family and friends and she looks at each day as a blessing,” Yunes said.

Baker, whose care included investigative studies at the Dana Faber Cancer Institute and surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, has now received the maximum amount of chemotherapy and radiation treatments possible.

“I never even thought about it taking my life. I just went on living,” said Baker, who was 29, working in the insurance industry and engaged to be married when she had a grand mal seizure.

Northampton neurologist Dr. R. Allison Ryan referred Baker to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., where Drs. David Roberts, neurosurgeon, and Camilo E. Fadul, neuro-oncologist, found a malignant tumor – known as a low-grade glimoa – the size of a pea.

“It was pretty devastating but I did what I needed to do. I had surgery on it at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and then six weeks of radiation at Cooley Dickinson,” Baker said.

There was no evidence the disease was clincally active for 11 years, allowing Baker to get on with life and marry her fiancé, Randy Baker.

“I couldn’t have done it without him,” said Baker of her husband who has his own excavation company. The couple has raised a son, Deryk, and stepson, Randy Jr.

When twitching started in her right side, Baker had a feeling the cancer was active again.

“It was like being kicked in the stomach,” said Baker, who again underwent surgery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock where doctors were able to remove 95 percent of the tumor.

Thirty-six weeks of chemotherapy followed at Cooley Dickinson under the care of medical oncologist, Dr. Deborah Smith.

Recently, the tumor has changed into a more aggressive glioma, prompting the six weeks of radiation at the D’Amour Center.

“I would much rather have cancer than watch someone go through it,” said Baker of her attitude.

“If I get down, I just say, “Donna, buck up. Buck up. It takes too much energy to be pessimistic.”

On her final morning of treatment, Baker arrived neatly dressed in slacks over her leg brace and green sweater accessorized by the earrings and necklaces she makes.

She embraced Tony Subia, Rebecca Schaefer and Carole Ursprung, her team of radiation therapists for most of the treatments, and she had much praise for Yunes.

“He listens and talks to you in layman’s terms. He always showed me everything that was going on. Plus, he is easy on the eyes,” said Baker of the fit 36-year-old radiation oncologist.

Baker, who turns 50 on May 3, said she hopes people “realize that I have enjoyed life.”

“I am really truly blessed and happy,” said Baker.

Baker, who has plans to start a blog,, said she also hopes people “read this and realize there is hope out there.”

As she left the D’Amour Center with a neighbor and plans for a big breakfast at Denny’s in Holyoke, Baker said she is happy not to have to rush her three cups of coffee anymore to be at the D’Amour Center for 8:15 a.m.

“I am excited at the idea of sleeping in,” Baker said. ... a_bak.html

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