For Columbus mom of three, Proton Therapy Center treatment team “felt like friends”

By Katie Pence

Meagan Barrick decided to get breast implants in 2012, a decision she later regretted.

“Over the years, I just grew up and became more comfortable with myself, and I decided I no longer wanted (the implants),” she said. “But I guess, in a weird way, getting them saved my life.”

It was complications from the removal of the implants in 2017 that led to doctors’ discovery of a rare tumor—a cancer that usually has vague symptoms and is often found in later stages.

Barrick, who lives in Thornville, Oh., a suburb of Columbus, said that during the removal surgery, her pectoral muscle was released from her sternum and she experienced a bad infection.

“Also, my neck began hurting,” she said. “The pain became really intense, and I tried everything to get it to go away. I saw an orthopaedic doctor and did several weeks of physical therapy. It was happening on the left side of my body, which is where my pec muscle was released from the sternum, so everyone thought those incidences were connected, and I couldn’t get any answers.”

Barrick said the pain was becoming more severe and the need to find out what was wrong became urgent.

“Finally, my family doctor referred me to a neurologist in Columbus who did an MRI and discovered an abnormality in my neck,” she said. “I was referred to the James.”

Barrick knew that the James (Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center—Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute) was a cancer hospital, but it didn’t click that she may have cancer until doctors diagnosed her with a chordoma, an extremely rare tumor.

“I was completely taken aback,” she said.

A chordoma is a rare type of cancer that occurs in the bones of the skull and spine. It is part of a group of malignant bone and soft tissue tumors called sarcomas. Chordomas account for about 3% of all bone tumors and about 20% of primary spinal tumors.

She was told her treatment would be standard—surgery to remove the tumor and then treatment with proton radiation. For the second part of her therapy, she was referred to the Cincinnati Children’s/UC Health Proton Therapy Center by her physicians at the James.

“I had my surgery in November—it took 13 hours and they had to fuse my spine—and by January, I was starting proton therapy,” she said.

Proton therapy is a form of radiation treatment used for certain types of cancers and lymphomas. A major advantage over traditional forms of radiotherapy is its ability to deliver radiation to a tumor area with remarkable precision, sparing healthy tissues. There are only 27 proton therapy centers in the U.S.

Barrick drove the two hours each way daily for 39 treatments at the Proton Therapy Center in Liberty Township.

“I never missed a treatment, and I went for my last appointment March 21,” she said.

But although that trip may sound burdensome, Barrick said going for treatments at the Proton Therapy Center was “almost enjoyable.”

“My treatment team was absolutely awesome,” she said. “I felt like I was with friends. Everyone from the front desk workers to the radiation therapists were amazing. They always worked to get me right in, as well, because they knew I was traveling from so far away.”

Her team at the Proton Therapy Center was equally fond of Barrick.

“Meagan gracefully accepted her situation and is an excellent role model to her three children,” said Andrew Porter, radiation therapist at the Proton Therapy Center. “She came to us each day with unwavering courage and positivity. We know she will conquer anything that comes her way.”

In mid-May, Barrick learned that the treatment worked: her follow-up scans show no sign of residual cancer.

However, she realizes this may not be the end of her journey.

“This type of cancer has a high recurrence rate, but at least we all know what to look for,” she said. “I’m staying pretty positive about it all.”

Barrick is looking forward to celebrating with her family—husband Andrew and three daughters, Scarlett, 15, Ava, 13, and Gwen, 9—on the beach in May.

“We’re taking a vacation to St. Thomas—and probably St. John, too,” she said. “I’m so excited. For the two years I was dealing with the neck pain, I couldn’t really travel because it got much worse when I was in a plane or a car.”

Aside from being thankful for teams who knew what to do, worked together to treat her and also made her feel like family, she’s also thankful that she fought for herself.

“I knew my body and that something just wasn’t right,” she said, describing the neck pain which was attributed to a muscle imbalance in the beginning. “Sometimes you have to be your own advocate—being the squeaky wheel is necessary sometimes. But, ultimately, I’m just so incredibly grateful the cancer was caught early and for the amazing friends, family and medical teams who have cared for me along the way.”

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