Check out the latest news about proton therapy: this week, find out how this state-of-the-art treatment modality is helping patients from all over the world in their fight against cancer.
29-YEAR-OLD BATTLES BRAIN TUMOR TO SING AGAIN
Zachary Zortman, a 29-year-old man from York, loves to sing, from tunes created with his former bandmates to the best of Billy Joel. But a drastic life change took away his ability to form full sentences, let alone sing.
It started with a headache. “The first one I took as a brain freeze,” Zachary said. “The second one I reported to my parents and girlfriend. We said if it happened again we’d go to the hospital.” And then it did: while driving home one day, he had a seizure, blacking out behind the wheel for a few seconds. He went to the emergency room where a CT scan revealed a brain tumor, and he was immediately rushed to Penn Medicine. A week later, he was diagnosed with a tumor in the part of the brain that controls language, comprehension and expressive speech and was told he would need surgery. Neurosurgeons performed an awake craniotomy to remove 99% of the tumor. The surgery required him to stay awake while surgeons cut a flap into his skull in an attempt to remove the tumor while testing his speech and motor functions throughout the 6-hour procedure. The surgeon’s choice for testing those functions? They had him sing. Zachary spent the rest of October in speech therapy and prepared to have the other 1% taken care of in the future. This month, he’ll start proton therapy to prevent the tumor from growing again. “When he came out of surgery he couldn’t speak in full sentences,” his brother said. “Now he’s singing again, but it’s just not what we expected from someone with such a musical career. It seems bad things happen to good people.” Zack replied: “I don’t get that negativity at all. I know I have a battle on my hands but I believe I can beat it.”
5-YEAR-OLD SMILING AFTER MONTHS OF TREATMENT
Little Riley Johnson is a 5-year-old boy from Oklahoma, USA who manages to keep smiling even after months of treatment for his brain cancer.
Doctors have a saying: “when you hear hoof beats, you should look for horses and not zebras.” So when a little boy appears to have a stubborn ear infection, most paediatricians never assume it’s cancer. Thankfully, Riley’s doctor decided to look beyond his apparent stubborn ear infection and noticed he had a slight head tilt. He sent him to the hospital for tests. That’s when Riley’s parents heard the news: “doctors said he had a mass, and we asked ‘What does that mean?’ They said ‘Well, he has cancer.’ Our family immediately just fell to the floor,” Riley’s mom said. “It’s stage 2 embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, which is a soft tissue cancer. It literally took me a week or two to say it, let alone spell it,” she added. As the mass was located in his brain, and surgery to remove it was not possible, Riley was taken to the hospital where his team of doctors developed a treatment that involved both chemotherapy and proton therapy. Riley is now receiving his last chemotherapy infusions, which he has been doing for 42 long weeks. So if he is a superman to his family, it has nothing to do with his physical strength, but with the fact that he’s still smiling after so many months of intense treatment. Riley has permanently lost hearing in one ear and partial movement in his face, but the tumor is gone. The 5-year-old will have some permanent physical challenges ahead, but his future is bright and sparkling with possibility.
KENDRA’S BATTLE WITH RARE TUMOR
In late Spring 2015, as Kendra completed her last semester of her nurse practitioner program, she began experiencing continuous pulsating ringing and hearing loss in her right ear and scheduled an appointment with her ENT doctor to share her concerns.
The ENT initially thought she was suffering from otitis media, however, he recommended a CT scan because he noticed that her right tonsil was enlarged. When she came back for her results, he told her that she had a rare tumor, a glomus jugulare tumor on the base of her skull, through the middle ear and extending into the intracranial cavity. Doctors decided that it would be best to monitor the tumor for a year to determine the presence of growth, so from July 2015 to July 2016, Kendra continued to live life as normal while continuing to experience hearing loss and incessant pulsating ringing in her ear. In July 2016, scans revealed that the tumor was continuing to grow causing her brainstem to deviate. It was immediately decided that she would need treatment due to the tumor’s size, growth, and location, and it was determined that radiation would be the best treatment option. Kendra was referred to a doctor at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas, who specializes in proton therapy for head and neck tumors. During her first appointment on October 26, 2016, it was determined that she would be a good candidate for proton therapy. Her treatment plan requires 35 sessions, and she will have to relocate to Houston for the 8 weeks of treatment beginning on November 14. Showing your support now, will definitely help with decreasing some of the stress of this entire process, as she needs help for relocation cost and living expenses while in Houston.