Check out the latest news about proton therapy: this week, find out how this state-of-the-art treatment modality is helping patients with various types of cancer overcome their disease and make plans for the future.
BOY WITH LIFE-THREATENING BRAIN TUMOR
Logan Silva, a 7-year-old second-grader, was diagnosed with a life-threatening fast-growing brain tumor called medulloblastoma after he hit his head at a soccer game and was scanned for concussion.
Two months following his concussion, Logan began having severe headaches, which led to the MRI scan that found his 3-centimeter-wide malignant brain tumor. Since the diagnosis on September 30, he underwent 2 surgeries and is currently being treated by proton therapy and chemotherapy. The surgeries left him with “posterior fossa syndrome”, a post-brain surgery condition in children that causes reduced speech and motor functions, which means he has to relearn how to speak, swallow and walk. Logan began his first of 30 treatments of proton therapy directed on his brain and spine last Thursday at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute near their home in Jacksonville, Florida. He will undergo this treatment every day for 6 weeks while having chemotherapy one day a week followed by 6 to 8 months of chemotherapy. Proton beam therapy is especially valuable for Logan’s condition because the beam can target the specific affected area while avoiding exposing his liver and other areas to harmful radiation. Logan’s mother Emily, a stay-at-home-mom, cares for the other 3 children aged 5, 3, and 4 months while Logan goes in for treatment. His dad Daniel describes the concussion as a “blessing in disguise” because his son vaguely showed symptoms beforehand. The second-grader just returned home last week after a month away where he spent two weeks in the hospital followed by a 2-week in-patient rehabilitation facility. He continues to go to rehab to strengthen his muscles and regain his motor functions.
TWO TIMES BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR
According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer survivors are at a higher risk of getting either a second type of breast cancer or another type of cancer. This was the case for Ann Freiberger.
Ann had been in remission from breast cancer for 19 years, but three months after completing her annual mammogram in November 2016, she noticed a change in her nipple. She returned to her doctor’s office, where they found invasive lobular carcinoma in her left breast. “This time around doctors found the lump in my left breast and explained there was no genetic relation to my previous cancer in my right breast,” Ann said. “You have to do your self-exams. If I had done them, I believe I would’ve caught this earlier.” A year before receiving her new breast cancer diagnosis, Ann underwent open heart surgery and had her mitral valve replaced. Therefore, she knew she needed the best radiation treatment that least compromised her heart. She followed her oncologist’s recommendation and went for proton therapy: “I chose proton therapy because I didn’t want radiation to affect the mitral valve in my heart. Also, proton therapy would have fewer side effects than traditional radiation,” she said. Today, the retired English teacher continues to live a productive life with her husband. They love spending time on their boat and with their “fur family” of two dogs and one cat. Additionally, she loves spending time with her grandchildren, reading and gardening.
LONGER AND HEALTHIER LIFE AFTER PT
When Aimée Huff was diagnosed at 40 years old, dying of breast cancer wasn’t an option. She opted for proton therapy to protect her healthy organs and live a long and happy life with her loved ones.
When Aimée found lumps in her breast, she wasn’t particularly worried. “I knew that 80% of breast lumps are benign, and I knew that I was seeing my OB-GYN in 3 weeks, and thought I’d mention it to her,” she recalled. “Not in a million years did I think that everything that’s happened in the past year was the path that was ahead of me.” Aimée was soon confronted with the fact that she had a large tumor, and it wasn’t benign. Confronted by the statistics of breast cancer survival and the various side effects linked to traditional radiation therapy such as increased risk of cardiac events, she decided to take her treatment into her hands and to pursue proton therapy. Proton therapy targets cancerous cells while minimizing radiation exposure to the surrounding healthy tissue, especially the heart and lungs. This is particularly important for patients who are relatively young and could otherwise be at risk of experiencing ongoing health problems once they’ve survived the cancer. “I decided in that moment that I didn’t care what the statistics said. I wasn’t a statistic,” she said. “Number 1, was really the collateral damage to heart and lungs, that being a left-sided tumor, and I’m 40 years old. My financial plan says that my heart and lungs need to go another 60+ years, and I wanna be there for grandchildren and great grandbabies and it wasn’t acceptable that I could survive the cancer and have my heart and lungs give out early. And so the fact that they could literally sculpt the treatment field around my healthy organs and just clean up any stray cancer cells was huge.” For Aimée, what proton therapy actually meant was a lifetime of health and happiness in front of her.