Proton therapy saved Michigan woman's sight

Author: Leslie Toldo

When Catherine Loss noticed she was having trouble breathing out of her left nostril, she went to her doctor, and he told her it was probably just allergies.

Not long after, Catherine's lymph nodes felt swollen and irritated, so her doctor sent her to an ear, nose, and throat specialist.  

"In the back of my mind, when the neck thing started, I knew something was going on, and it was more serious than allergies," Catherine said.

It was.  

A CT scan revealed Catherine had a tumor behind her nose. It was nasopharyngeal cancer.  

After aggressive treatment with chemotherapy and radiation, a PET scan and MRI revealed no sign of the disease.

Catherine breathed a sigh of relief, but not even a year later, she noticed something between the corner of her left eye and left nostril. She thought it could be a plugged tear duct; however, the MRI exam revealed the cancer was back.  

"I had to go through this again," said Catherine, "and I thought, oh, my, I don't know if I can."

Treating Catherine's cancer with radiation this time would be a bit more complicated. Catherine's radiation oncologist told her he feared she might lose her vision if she had traditional radiation. He asked her if she would be willing to visit at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center, part of the Karmanos Cancer Network.

Catherine quickly agreed to go, but learning she needed more radiation devastated her.

"When I first went in to get set up for treatments, I couldn't breathe, so I thought I was going to die on the table," she said. "All those memories made me afraid."

Those fears were overwhelming, but Catherine said Dr. Gayar and his staff put her at ease when they explained proton therapy is much less invasive than traditional radiation.

"They told me it would be okay," Catherine said, "they're all just wonderful people. It's like you are not in this yourself. It's like they're on this journey with you. "

Proton therapy uses advanced Pencil Beam Scanning (PBS) technology to deliver higher radiation doses to more targeted areas, sparing healthy tissue, lowering the risk of secondary cancers, and reducing side effects.

"My entire team and I are pleased to have the proton technology. It allows us to treat solid tumors precisely and safely in sensitive locations where conventional treatment will unnecessarily spill radiation to surrounding critical organs and tissue," said Dr. Gayar. 

Catherine said she had a completely different experience with proton therapy. Now she wants to urge other cancer patients to look into it.

"Check on proton," Catherine said, "if you're able to have that type of radiation, it'll be a better experience. "

While she had heard of proton therapy before, Catherine thought it was for prostate cancer only; however, it can treat several forms of cancer.

"Especially these days when treatments are better than they have been in the past, patients are looking for a cure or a treatment that will allow them to continue to live a full life," Dr. Gayar said. He also noted hundreds of patients are having tremendous success at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center. 

Catherine had seven weeks of proton therapy coupled with chemotherapy. She tolerated the proton therapy well, with minimal side effects.

Catherine now shows no signs of cancer. Best of all, McLaren doctors were able to spare her vision. She has a new lease on life, including some advice for others, "Live life to the fullest and spend time with the grandkids."

Call (855) MY-PROTON to schedule a consultation. To request more information about proton therapy at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center, visit