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Jim - Sarcoma

Jim - Sarcoma

When Jim Copen went to pick up his 6-year-old granddaughter, she pointed out something unusual about him that she hadn’t noticed before.

“She told me, ‘Grandpa, your belly is sticking out’,” Jim recalls. “She had noticed my entire stomach was bulging and that’s when we decided to get it checked out.”

In May of 2019, after a biopsy of the foreign mass, Jim was diagnosed with liposarcoma, a rare form of cancer that develops in the fatty tissue. This type of tumor can grow anywhere in the body and is malignant, meaning it can spread to other nearby vital organs. For Jim, the tumor was growing in his abdomen outside his peritoneal cavity, a closed sac that contains the digestive organs: intestines, stomach, spleen, and liver. After undergoing surgery in August of 2019 to remove the tumor, Jim was told the likelihood the cancer would return was high. In January 2021, Jim got the news that it had returned.

Following his second diagnosis, Jim was referred to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center (formerly Seattle Cancer Care Alliance) to consult with a team of specialists on liposarcoma. After consultation, Jim knew he would have to have a second surgery to remove the tumor. His care team also encouraged him to consider radiation therapy to improve their chance of curing Jim and keep his tumor from coming back. Jim’s oncologist, Dr. Stephanie Schaub favored proton therapy for Jim’s specific case because protons have a physical advantage of no “exit radiation dose” that would allow his team to best treat his tumor while minimizing risk to his surrounding critical organs, such as his only remaining kidney, bowels, stomach, and liver.

Jim is a scientist with a keen interest in better understanding how protons work. Jim was able to consult with one of the Medical Physicists at the Proton Therapy Center. The physicist sat down with Jim and reviewed his treatment plan to provide a deeper understanding of the complexity, quality assurance, and thoughtful planning that is required to deliver this sophisticated form of radiation therapy.

Deciding if proton therapy treatment was the right choice for Jim was a family decision. He consulted with his wife, Sally, and their two children, specifically his son who has a background in nursing. After discussing with his family, Jim felt confident following the recommendation of his care team. 

Jim traveled to the Proton Therapy Center daily from Bainbridge Island to receive his treatment. He shared that he always felt welcomed and cared for by the staff at the Proton Therapy Center, especially his oncologist, Dr. Schaub. Jim was consistently impressed by the whole staff’s attention to detail and professionalism -- he was always greeted by name at the concierge desk with information on his visit. Following his successful proton therapy treatment, Jim’s sarcoma was small enough to be safely surgically removed. To date, there has been no further evidence of cancer.

Jim’s advice to those considering proton therapy treatment is to not be afraid of it. He said proton therapy treatment was the easiest aspect of his cancer treatment and experienced minimal side effects.

Jim says maintaining a positive attitude is the best advice he can give to anyone in a similar situation.

Throughout his cancer treatment, and now on the road to recovery, Jim says maintaining a positive attitude is the best advice he can give to anyone in a similar situation. He is grateful for his family support system. Jim became emotional recalling how important it was to his mental health to be able to openly discuss his feelings on his diagnosis and treatment with his wife and children. 

Sally, Jim’s wife of 50 years “is completely in awe of his strength and resilience.” She believes his positive mindset is what helped them through as a family. 

Jim and Sally picked up the hobby of doing jigsaw puzzles together to stay mentally stimulated, and they go on walks together regularly to stay active. As he recovers, Jim is most excited to return to the golf course, having visited the course for the first time in six months in February after his second surgery to remove the tumor.

Jim is a retired geologist and is looking forward to getting back to his home improvement projects at their family home on Bainbridge Island. He and Sally are eager to spend more time with their family as he continues to rebuild his strength post-surgery.