Check out the latest news about proton therapy: this week, find out how this state-of-the-art treatment modality is helping patients of all ages and making new life opportunities possible.
COLLEGE AFTER CANCER
Sarah Gerlach, a 19-year-old young woman who has beaten an inoperable brain tumor as a high school senior, is now looking at her future.
Two years before she was diagnosed, Sarah could tell something was wrong with her health, as she was suffering from extreme fatigue and debilitating headaches that interfered with her ability to study. “My headaches were so bad my junior year that I would come home from school and take 3-hour naps every day,” she recalls. “I would go to the doctor all the time and get blood tests, but doctors would just tell me they were stress headaches. I felt very frustrated, like nobody believed me.” She was finally referred to a pediatric neurologist and got a cranial spinal MRI, which revealed a cancerous brain tumor. The tumor was inoperable, and even if chemotherapy treatments managed to shrink it, they did not eliminate it, so Sarah and her family decided to look into radiation and elected to try proton therapy at ProCure in Oklahoma City. “My doctor was really awesome,” Sarah says. “During the week, I would go to school for 3 or 4 hours, then drive down to Oklahoma City in the afternoons for my daily proton treatment.” The teen’s last proton therapy treatment was April 6, 2015, and an MRI shortly thereafter showed that the cancerous tissue was dead and she was officially in remission. After finishing up a year of Tulsa Community College this spring, she excitedly talks about attending the University of Arkansas in fall 2016.
PROTON THERAPY IN OHIO
Melissa Hennie was 15 years old when she was treated for a benign cyst in her eardrum. However, it returned 9 years later, only this time it was cancerous. Now, she is back at University Hospitals, fighting a very different battle.
People in Ohio now have a brand new option when it comes to cancer treatment, available in Cleveland. At just 24 years old, Melissa is fighting cancer in a way no one else in Ohio has before. She slips on her mask 5 days a week at the hospital while and a laser is pointed at her head to destroy an invisible enemy. The “laser” is a proton beam designed to offer targeted radiation therapy at University Hospitals. “The first treatment was kind of scary, because you have a beam right next to your face and you’re kind of freaking out a little bit,” she recalls. “It’s a scary thing, but I never really had time to let it catch up with me.” Her doctor said: “Melissa has a tumor located in the base of her skull. It was removed surgically, but there’s a risk that it could recur from cells that have been left behind. And by using proton beam, we were able to eliminate a lot of unnecessary dose that would have gone to her brain.” Melissa’s prognosis is good, she will have 23 total radiation treatments with the proton beam and then finish out her chemotherapy. She says she is looking forward to getting it all done so she can move on with her life and hopefully never have to do it again.
FROM THE UK TO CALIFORNIA FOR PROTON THERAPY
58-year-old Rupert Lowe has led such a full life that he believes success and stress caused his prostate infection in 2006. And as his PSA gradually increased from 2006, a biopsy finally revealed early-stage prostate cancer in 2014.
His doctor recommended surgery, but Rupert wasn’t convinced and began to pursue treatment options with the same zeal that has driven his career. One of his friends had been treated with proton beam therapy at Scripps in California, so he checked it out and liked what he found. The treatment was not available in the UK, so he made the decision to travel to California and rented a cottage with his wife in nearby Rancho Santa Fe. He received daily treatments, Monday through Friday, for 4 weeks and was able to conduct a bit of work while enjoying the San Diego climate and beaches. “I chose to have my treatments at 8 a.m., and then caught up with emails, and by lunch time England was closing down so we had lunch, played a little tennis and enjoyed the weather, which was fantastic,” Rupert says. Since returning home to the UK, he has continued his active work schedule. “I still work pretty hard, and have a wife and 4 children who rely on me, but I’m not tied to a desk anymore” he says. “I don’t think my life has changed that much. I do think I probably pinch myself every time I start to get irritated and say ‘This isn’t worth getting irritated about so why bother?’” If someone were to ask his advice about proton therapy, Rupert would say it is definitely something to look at: “At the end of the day it can mean a better quality of life and less side effects after treatment.”