Love for music bonds teen with proton radiation technicians

Music produced an instant connection between 13-year-old Hannah Maupin and her proton radiation technicians.

They had cued up her iPod as Hannah climbed atop the treatment table for the very first time. And the voice of Rich Mullins, a contemporary Christian musician who had recorded albums in the 1980s and ’90s, leapt from the treatment room’s speakers.

Some of the proton radiation techs looked at one another in surprise.

“Rich Mullins is not a musician that most 13-year-old kids know,” said Leah Maupin, Hannah’s mom. “But several of the technicians knew him. And right away they had a bond with the music.”

Hannah’s iPod segued to another song. And the sounds of the Christian rock band Casting Crowns poured through the proton treatment room, helping to further ease Hannah’s apprehensions about her first proton treatment.

“The first one, I was kind of nervous,” Hannah recalled. “I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. When the [proton] radiation started, I had the urge to twitch,” she said laughing.

But the kind words and guidance of the techs, and just talking with the seventh grader and getting to know her as a person — not as a patient with Hodgkin’s lymphoma — stirred a warm friendship that Hannah and her mom recall with great fondness.

It was on April 16 that Hannah bid farewell to the doctors, nurses and proton radiation technicians at Indiana University Health Proton Therapy Center in Bloomington, Indiana. She had just received her 28th and final proton treatment.

Through tears and laughter, the staff celebrated Hannah’s last day at IU. And Hannah conveyed her thanks, too. With music.

“Casting Crowns was playing in Evansville a week earlier, and Hannah and I drove down to the concert,” Leah said. “Hannah got a CD with signatures of all the band members so she could give it to the techs on her last day.”

Hannah and her mother had arrived in Bloomington seven weeks earlier from their home in Corvallis, Oregon. Hannah, an honors student at Santiam Christian School, had experienced a relapse of her cancer during the summer break. “It came back with a vengeance,” Leah said.

Hannah’s cancer had spread to lymph nodes in her chest and abdomen where critical organs and tissue are located. “Her lymphoma was wrapped around her heart,” said Leah.

Last year, Hannah endured five rounds of chemotherapy at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland, Oregon, “to decrease the burden of disease,” Leah recalled. Then, in January 2013, Hannah experienced seven days of high-dose chemotherapy followed by a stem cell rescue at OHSU before heading off to Bloomington, the town where Leah had been born and raised.

Hannah’s radiologist at OHSU supported IU’s proton treatment approach, having the proton beams enter from Hannah’s back in order to spare healthy tissue.

The proton radiation technicians took Hannah’s mind off her daily treatments and found ways for Hannah and her mom to enjoy their time in Bloomington. “One of the techs figured we would like the climbing wall,” Leah said. “So, when Hannah’s siblings came out from Oregon to see us, we all went climbing.”

Another tech helped connect Hannah to the Bloomington Archery Club, whose members welcomed her like their long-lost daughter.

Hannah had always wanted to try archery. Suddenly, she had a host of tutors, helping Hannah practice her draw, aim and release. “I loved going there,” she said. “I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.”

“Our time in Bloomington was the best possible scenario for a difficult situation,” Leah added. “We felt loved and blessed