Last year was a very hard year for my family: we lost a brother and a great-nephew. And another brother, Ronnie, learned he had cancer in both lungs. We were devastated.
The Big C. It is so daunting, we don’t even want to say it out loud. Ronnie’s attitude, from the beginning, was very positive, though. He said it was going to be fine.
When cancer happens, treatment begins with lots of running back and forth between doctors. Ronnie was given some choices for treatment, along with probabilities, his chances of making it through the treatments alive. He was a poor risk for surgery, already being on a daily dose of blood thinner. And he was very much opposed to chemotherapy. In the end, he chose a treatment that I had never heard of before: CyberKnife Radiosurgery.
CyberKnife – sounds like a futuristic bad guy, doesn’t it? It turned out to be something quite different. The treatment begins with gold balls (fiducials) being surgically implanted in the tumors. (Ronnie had five in each lung). The fiducials are used to guide the CyberKnife’s radiation beams to the spot where they are needed. The incision for implanting the fiducials was about an inch or so long, long enough to be a concern about blood loss. Not only was there a danger of blood loss because of the blood thinner, but the doctors also warned him that his lungs might collapse. And they did – which was painful for him and scary for all of us and explains why they work with only one lung at a time.
The next step was the casting of a body mold, the purpose of which was to limit movement during the procedure. Ronnie lay on a table and the technicians sculpted the form around him from a material much like pliable Styrofoam. When they were done, the mold hardened and was kept on hand to be used each time he came for treatment.
When the patient is ready to begin treatment, he/she is placed on a table inside the mold and a robotic device (that looks something like a praying mantis, according to Ronnie) moves around them, zapping the tumors with gamma rays from many different directions. The gold beads guide the rays, keeping them away from all other organs and tissues. (This is where it differs significantly from the usual form of radiation, which hits everything in its vicinity.) The first treatment lasted three hours, but the time lessened with subsequent visits to two hours or so. Ronnie had to have three separate treatments on each lung, totaling six treatments altogether. He drove himself to and from the Asheville hospital each time. I wouldn’t say he felt fine, but he did very well throughout the treatment process. The doctors told him to expect one post-treatment side effect: tiredness. And, sure enough, after the treatments were done, the tiredness came. But in less than two weeks, he was back out, working in his garden and mowing his lawn and doing all the things he enjoys, though I am sure he had to push himself at first. When he went back for his post-treatment checkup, about three months later, there was only scar tissue and no traces of the cancer could be found.
Some folks, for different reasons, may not be good candidates for this treatment, but many will be. Your doctor can tell you. In Ronnie’s case, it was the best option. At the time of Ronnie’s treatment, he was told there were only 30 locations in the U.S. where this treatment was available, but as of this writing there are over 100. One of those places is Mission Hospital in Asheville. We are very lucky in that.
I wish no one would ever have to face this type of crisis, but if you do, remember there is another option for you. According to Mission Hospital, “CyberKnife® Radiosurgery offers new hope for patients who have been diagnosed with surgically complex or inoperable tumors and for anyone who is looking for a painless, noninvasive alternative to cancer surgery.” I would think that would be almost everyone.
You can find more information at these websites: