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July 8, 2024

Finding Comfort and Hope During Cancer Treatment

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One taste of Ella Gonzalez’s tamales, and you can tell they’re made with skill and love. Her authentic Mexican dish has a flavor and spice all its own—much like Ella herself.

Ella, who is 63 years old, and her husband Heladio Salinas make tamales for friends and family out of their Michigan home. It’s a hobby that not only earns Ella some extra cash, but also has supported and comforted her during the toughest moments of her life.

A Years-Long Battle Begins

More than 15 years ago, Ella was diagnosed with a metastatic neuroendocrine tumor in her pancreas. She had surgery, and for the next 11 years felt confident she had cancer beat.

“I was being treated for a urinary tract infection, and when the labs came back they told me the cancer was back,” Ella said. “I instantly started crying. I was scared.”

This second bout of cancer in 2020 included lesions in her liver. She underwent surgery plus radiation. Again, she thought she was out of the woods. But her battle wasn’t over yet.

“I took a trip to Dallas in 2022, and something wasn’t right,” recalls Ella. “I suddenly couldn’t walk and had trouble even getting to the bathroom. “I called my oncologist and he got me in right away.”

This was now Ella’s third bout with metastatic cancer. After radiation and chemotherapy, she once again thought she was in the clear. But a routine CT scan in 2023 revealed the cancer in her liver had progressed. Her doctor referred her to a place she’d never heard of called BAMF Health.

Treatment with Radiopharmaceuticals

Dr. Brandon Mancini, the lead physician and Medical Director at BAMF Health, immediately put together a plan for Ella’s care. Ella was a candidate for an FDA-approved radiopharmaceutical therapy.

“This therapy works by binding to unique targets on cancer cells, delivering radiation directly where it is needed for therapeutic effect,” Dr. Mancini explains. “Most patients receive four therapy doses delivered eight weeks apart. The therapy is designed to deliver focal radiation therapy to cancer cells over many weeks with the goal of shrinking or stabilizing the tumors over time.”

Ella couldn’t believe there was such a thing as radiopharmaceutical therapy. “I thought, ‘holy cow’! I don’t think I’m going to be able to do that.”

Using molecular imaging, Dr. Mancini and his team were able to pinpoint exactly where Ella’s tumors were located. Then as the weeks went on, they watched how the treatment impacted the size and number of her tumors.

“Twenty-four hours after every therapy dose, we perform a SPECT/CT scan for patients like Ella,” Dr. Mancini explained. “Such a scan shows us exactly where the therapy is going and how it is impacting the cancer cells. We use that information to create personalized treatment plans for each patient.”

Side effects of the therapy are generally minor. Ella said she experienced fatigue and some hair loss. “I’m tired when I get the treatment done, but I keep moving. I don’t baby myself. I’m not the type to do that.”

Living Life to the Fullest

Ella has never been the type to let cancer prevent her from doing the things she loves. As a great-grandmother, she loves spending time with her family but also enjoys traveling. Her favorite places to visit are Texas, Mexico, and Florida.

“I know a lot of people, when they hear the word ‘cancer,’ stop doing everything. I’m into everything,” she said. “I’m into sewing, knitting, and crocheting. You name it, I’m in it. Cancer doesn’t have to be sad and depressing.”

Ella can’t say enough about the support she’s received from the team at BAMF Health. “They’re so caring at BAMF. You’re not just a person that’s sick. They show you that you’re more than that. They make not only me feel important; they treat my husband very well, too, and that means a lot.”

“I stay by her side no matter what,” Heladio said. “We’ll be married 10 years in September 2024. She cares for me, and I care for her. We’re a team.”

When Ella went for her final SPECT/CT scan, she didn’t come to BAMF Health empty-handed. In a large zip lock bag were her famous tamales—a thank you for giving her hope and more time to do the things she loves with the people she cares for most.

“I don’t regret coming here,” Ella reflects. “I love this place. I’d come back again if I had to.”

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