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Cancer patients often find hope and inspiration from the personal stories of others who have faced cancer.

Anita Simonsen’s Story
Pat and Lynette Romsos
Anita Simonsen

Anita Simonsen’s cancer was found in a mammogram she had no intention of having. Her past mammograms were clear and she was confident that her self-exams were thorough. In fact, as a nurse she administered many breast exams on women patients. Only at the last minute did she reconsider and keep her appointment.

“I was too busy and didn’t want to do the mammogram. I felt confident with my own exams. Yet, I missed it.”

The mammogram revealed a tumor the size of a large olive and, ultimately, the diagnosis was stage II breast cancer. A surgeon removed the cancerous tumor in what is called a lumpectomy. The lumpectomy is surgery to remove a breast cancer, or other lump in the breast, along with some surrounding tissue from the breast.

Billings Clinic radiation oncologist, John Schallenkamp, MD, determined that Anita qualified for a cancer treatment that places the radiation source inside the breast—as opposed to radiation treatment via an external beam. A balloon-shaped device was placed inside the lumpectomy cavity in the breast. The therapy, called SAVI, enabled Dr. Schallenkamp to control the dose of radiation to the cancerous area of the breast

Due to the precise application of the high dose radiation, the treatment takes only five days with two treatments per day. This was important to Anita.

“Because I was a nurse, I knew more about radiation and chemotherapy than the average person and the thought of five days (of treatment) versus a month got me from the start.” The Billings native added, “I’m comfortable here at Billings Clinic, but it’s just that I’m busy. I’ve got a life to live. But, okay, I can come in for an hour and back in the afternoon.”

Anita is very familiar with the health care organization. She started her career in health care as a candy striper in 1959 at Deaconess Hospital (now Billings Clinic) and the following year became an aide. She moved from Montana after nursing school at Eastern Montana College (now Montana State University-Billings). Ten years ago Anita returned to work at Billings Clinic for ten years before retirement in 2009.

These days she spends time reading, studying genealogy, gardening and tending to her extended family. Her world is busy and she is grateful for the extra time the SAVI treatment afforded her.

“Everything went like clockwork. You are in and out in less than an hour. If you have to have cancer they (Billings Clinic Cancer Center) make it as positive an experience as it can be. Knowing that the radiation was directed exactly where it needed to be was important to me. It was a great experience and the nurses were wonderful.”

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