Butterflies and Birds: Patricia “Sissy” Price, Radiation Therapist

By Leslie Moore

Butterflies and Birds: Patricia “Sissy” Price, Radiation Therapist

Everyday heroes are all around us, serving and helping with little fanfare. One such hero is Sissy Price, a bright spot of hope for cancer patients who come to her for treatment. “This work is what I was meant to do,” said Sissy, a Radiation Therapist at Carolina Regional Cancer Center in Myrtle Beach. Kind and empathetic, Sissy has worked at the center for 36 years, since the facility opened in 1980, helping thousands of patients and their families.

A native of North Myrtle Beach, Sissy began her career as an X-Ray technician, working at McLeod Regional Hospital in Florence. She knew she wanted to advance her career by training to be either an ultrasound or radiation therapist, but when she saw her uncle die of cancer, she knew how she wanted to spend the rest of her working career.

“I received my training at the University of Virginia and went back to work at McLeod in their cancer center,” Sissy began. “The doctors I worked with in Florence, along with several doctors from MUSC, felt there was a need for a cancer center in the Grand Strand area. They went to the hospitals, but at the time, they weren’t interested.” The group of determined doctors decided to build the center on their own and opened Carolina Regional Cancer Center in 1980. Sissy wanted to move back to her North Myrtle Beach home and asked to transfer to the new facility.  “When we opened, we only had two staff members, me and a receptionist,” she remembers.

The center kept growing. In the early years, Sissy would see an average of 7-10 patients a day. Now, Carolina Regional Cancer Center generally treats between 95-120 patients daily. A satellite office in Conway has recently opened, giving cancer patients in that area another option for treatment. I asked Sissy why she thought there were so many more patients getting radiation therapy now. “The population has increased, of course, but people are being diagnosed earlier now as well. We routinely treat approximately 50% of all cancers diagnosed in our area.”

“Radiation therapy has come a long way,” Sissy told me. “With early detection, and better technology, we can pinpoint treatment to the cancerous tissue and minimize side effects.” She uses intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), an advanced mode of radiotherapy that can pinpoint and deliver precise radiation to the affected area. “Years ago, people were ashamed to have cancer,” said Sissy. “Many times, by the time I saw them, the cancer was very advanced. I would see women with breast cancer come in with their breast eaten away with disease.” Sissy went on to explain that today’s breast cancer patients do very well, mostly due to early diagnostics such as mammograms and ultrasounds. “With IMRT, healthy tissue is spared.”

When Sissy’s sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, it changed not only her personal life, but her professional life as well. “I was always empathic to the patient and would spend as much time as needed to explain everything to them,” Sissy began. “But after my sister was diagnosed, I really saw what families go through. My sister went into remission for eleven years before the cancer returned, and she was able to see her daughters grow up and even the first birthday of her grandson.”

“It is gratifying to know I am helping,” Sissy told me when I asked about how this work had changed her life. “I remember, years ago, a woman coming in with head and neck cancer. She had a one year old daughter and no family support. One day, the doctors sent her to Grand Strand Hospital for a scan, but she had no way to get there. I asked her to wait until I finished working with my current patient and I would take her. I’ve never forgotten that woman and am always so thankful that I have always been healthy and got to see my daughters grow up. Many are not so lucky.”

She went on, saying, “Working in this profession helps you keep your priorities straight. Most of us have a tendency to forget how blessed we are, but if I’m having a bad day, all I have to do is look in the waiting room.”

Mother to two daughters, Kim and Katie, Sissy’s main focus outside of work is her two grandchildren, Addison, age 7, and Maddox, age 2. The weekend before our meeting, she was helping her daughter move to Charleston. It was hot and the work was hard. “I was starting to complain when I stopped and realized how blessed I am to be able to work hard. People come into the center and they look great, you’d never know they have cancer. But, I know what their diagnosis is and watch them go slowly downhill over the next few months. Life can change in an instant. Always be thankful.”

Carolina Regional Cancer Center’s standards of excellence are a great source of pride for Sissy. “We offer the most progressive treatments available so people won’t have to travel so far.” After a patient is diagnosed, they will come into the center and meet with a radiation oncologist who will develop a treatment plan. If the patient is a candidate for radiation therapy, they will come back for a simulation, which includes a CT scan to determine exactly where to mark their skin for the upcoming treatments. The doctor then reviews the scans and brings the patient in again to plan their treatment, making sure the IMRT is optimized. After a trial run and an x-ray to ensure absolute accuracy, the patients begin an average of 22 treatments.

If she’s not with her grandchildren, Sissy will most likely be found outside gardening, and her yard is a showplace. “All I’ve ever known is to work hard,” she laughed. “When my children were young, I would sometimes work ten hours a day, then come home and take care of my husband and children.” Of course, as a native of North Myrtle Beach, Sissy does go out shag dancing about once a month. Duck’s is her current favorite dance spot, but Sissy remembers taking shag lessons at the iconic Fat Harold’s years ago.

“North Myrtle Beach is my home,” she told me. “There’s nothing about my home I don’t enjoy,” she said laughing. “But it’s the people I love that are the most important.”

Sissy’s work is demanding, humbling and often very sad. A strong faith keeps her upbeat and positive. “My granddaughter asked me if I was going to die, and I told her, yes, I would die eventually, but I would come back. I might be a butterfly or I might be a bird, but I would be there, watching over her and Maddox.”

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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One Response to “Butterflies and Birds: Patricia “Sissy” Price, Radiation Therapist”

  1. Sam Causey says:

    Great Article to notice this extremely dedicated employee for many, many years. 21st Century Oncology is blessed to have an employee with such integrity, knowledge and dedication to provide first rate compassionate, state-of-the-Art cancer care to every patient. Sissy’s concern for each patient is outstanding. She’s a keeper!!

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