Check out the latest news about proton therapy: this week, find out how this state-of-the-art treatment modality is helping young patients lead a normal life during treatment and forget about cancer for just a minute.
YOUNG BRAIN TUMOR PATIENT NOW CANCER FREE
Izabella Voelker, a 12-year-old battling a rare brain tumor, has celebrated a milestone in a very big way last week as she striked a gong as a symbol of the end of her proton therapy treatment.
Izabella, who is known as Bella, says her journey began with a pain in her elbow. Last May, she was diagnosed with a very rare brain tumor, and the outlook seemed so hopeless that Bella went so far as to write her own will. On the advice of her doctors at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, her family decided to send her to Scripps Proton Therapy Center in San Diego. Proton therapy precisely targets tumors instead of exposing the rest of her body to radiation. “With regular treatment, they would have had to radiate my spine,” Bella said. “The radiation would have hit my organs as well.” She went through week after week of intense radiation sessions. After having her implanted treatment devices removed at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, Bella was asked how she would celebrate the huge milestone and she suggested striking a gong. That’s just what she did Thursday. Other patients will have the same chance when they get a port removed. “They have something that they can use to celebrate and to further express their feelings and just to be done with all this,” she said. Bella is currently in remission and off treatment. There was no tumor to be seen in her last MRI.
TEENAGE CANCER PATIENT OFF TO DISNEY WORLD
Earlier this month, 100 pediatric patients, whose days are usually filled with treatments, checkups and doctors, were given the unique opportunity to go to Disney World thanks to the Sunshine Foundation in New Jersey as part of their “Operation Dreamlift”.
This year, one member of the Operation Dreamlift group was Ben Lepisto, a 15-year-old teen with medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumor seen in children. Ben was diagnosed after he began experiencing fatigue and blurred eyesight, which ultimately forced him to pull back from playing baseball and a number of other sports he was pursuing. After several blood tests and a biopsy, Ben and his parents learned the news that no family ever wants to hear: he had a brain tumor. Shortly thereafter, he underwent surgery to have it removed. Sadly, in late summer of last year, the Lepisto family learned that Ben’s cancer had metastasized to his lymph nodes. Determined to treat his cancer as effectively as possible, Ben was referred to ProCure Proton Therapy Center in Somerset, NJ where he would go on to receive proton therapy. For Ben, visiting Disney World was a magical experience: “Being at Disney was really fun, and what I enjoyed most was being able to meet other kids like me, to just have a normal conversation with people who are fighting a similar battle.” Ben will return to school in the fall to begin his junior year on time, thanks to homeschooling, effective cancer treatment and a lot of persistence. “I was really determined to fight my battle against cancer so I can continue doing the things I love. For any other kids going through sickness or struggles, my message is simple: stay driven and stay hopeful.”
ONE NIGHT AT THE AQUARIUM FOR CANCER KIDS
Every few months after closing time, the New England Aquarium opens its doors to children being treated at Massachusetts General Hospital. Last week, Kelly Gonzalez, 11, and Dimas Lamp, 8, were among the evening’s “SEA Stars.”
Kelly is a sixth grader from Wilmington who has undergone two surgeries to remove a highly aggressive and malignant tumor from her brain, called medulloblastoma, that doctors found last October. She’s had radiation treatments and chemotherapy. She’s also received proton beam therapy at MGH, which targets tumors with minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissue. Dimas, a second grader from West Virginia, has a malignant brain tumor and also came to Boston for MGH’s proton beam therapy. His mom said her son was excited for the aquarium visit: “It’s a bright spot to look forward to in the midst of going to proton therapy and other appointments and taking medicine”. Kelly and Dimas wore big smiles as they watched fur seals and sea lions spin and swim around for herring and squid. Kelly’s mom said: “I just loved to see her doing things that typical kids do, where so much of her time is spent either in treatment or not feeling well.”. The kids got to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of the “fish hospital.” At the tide pool, Dimas fed crab meat to a flounder. Kelly picked up a big horseshoe crab, undaunted by its hard shell, claws and long tail. For a couple of hours, there were no hospitals beds, no grueling treatments, no poking and prodding from doctors and nurses.