In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

August 4, 2015

Proton Beam Therapy Patient by Day, Labor and Delivery Nurse by Night

By In the Loop

Audra Popp, proton beam therapy patient by day, labor and delivery nurse by nightAudra Popp came to Mayo Clinic as a patient. But one night last month, while out for a walk, the former labor and delivery nurse served as an ad hoc caregiver.

Audra, one of the first patients to receive proton beam therapy at Mayo Clinic after the program in Rochester began treating patients in June, was walking with her brother around 10:30 p.m., when she heard a woman calling for help near the Charlton Building on the Mayo Clinic campus in Rochester. Audra recognized something in the woman's stance. "She's having a baby!" she told her brother. Then she rushed across the street. After helping the woman lie down, Audra quickly delivered a healthy baby. "I was at the right place at the right time with the right skills," she says. "If that's my last delivery, it will be a memorable one. It will be a gift."

Though Audra is only 48, she had to stop working last fall after a third recurrence of a rare brain tumor (pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma with anaplastic features). Mayo's Richard Marsh, M.D., removed the tumor in October 2014. Although Audra was receiving chemotherapy, the tumor quickly grew back. Audra had another surgery — her fifth — on May 15, 2015. "My lucky number is now 5," says Audra, an eternal optimist who closes her Caring Bridge entries with the phrase, "With hope all things are possible."

Audra says her hope comes, in part, from the team caring for her. "Even though my tumor keeps coming back, I know I'm in the best hands," she says. "I'm being treated by an amazing team of physicians, and they make it very easy for me to be hopeful." Proton beam therapy has given her another reason to hope. The targeted treatment is a promising new option for patients like Audra, for whom traditional radiation therapy is not an option. "I feel so excited and so blessed to be able to have this treatment," she tells us. "All of us do."

The "all of us" Audra is referring to are the other proton beam therapy patients, many of whom have developed close bonds through treatment. "It's one huge support group," she says. "These are life-changing experiences, and you can't really put into words what it's like. But other patients understand." Audra says she and the other patients have been cheering and supporting each other through treatment, and have begun celebrating together as each person finishes and rings the bell — a tradition that signifies the end of treatment. When Audra takes her turn at ringing the bell on Friday, Aug. 7, she'll be the first patient to have done so at both Mayo's proton beam therapy center in the Jacobson Building and at Desk R in the Charlton Building, where she previously received traditional radiation.

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Tags: Cancer, Dr Richard Marsh, Patient Stories, Proton Beam

Wish I could’ve been there when you rang the bell last Friday . Good for you Audra!

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