“We all agreed this was the best treatment for me.”
When Kathlene Laurel found out that the lung cancer she had been fighting for three months had spread to her brain, there was “no time for a pity party.”
“I was not going to back down from cancer; I had to get moving and find my best treatment option,” says the 68-year-old Springfield resident.
First diagnosed in July 2014 with an inoperable mass between her left lung and her heart, Kathlene had undergone radiation therapy and chemotherapy at Saint Michael’s Medical Center in Newark when new symptoms appeared. Her daughter, Rhonda, was the first to notice that September that her mother’s gait was unstable. After Kathlene fell on a sidewalk and later bumped her head on a closet door, Rhonda insisted she call her oncologists.
The diagnosis: a brain metastasis. The cherry tomato-sized tumor was lodged within her brain’s eloquent cortex, the area responsible for vision, speech, language, and motor functioning.
Determined to fight back, Kathlene opted for a combined treatment approach that included radiation treatment and gamma knife radiosurgery at The Valley Hospital Gamma Knife Center.
Getting a Boost From Gamma
Kathlene was referred to Michael F. Wesson, M.D., a board-certified radiation oncologist at Valley and a member of the Gamma Knife Center team. Dr. Wesson brought in his colleague, board-certified neurosurgeon Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., Co-Director of the Gamma Knife Center, Director of the Neuro-Oncology Disease Management Team, and Associate Director of Neuroscience, to meet with Kathlene and Rhonda.
Because of the size of the tumor and its location within a critical area of Kathlene’s brain, Drs. Wesson and D’Ambrosio advised a combination of 10 external radiation treatments using focused intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) at Saint Michael’s, followed by a planned boost dose with gamma knife radiosurgery five days later. Collaboration between Kathlene’s radiation oncologist at Saint Michael’s and Drs. Wesson and D’Ambrosio enabled her to undergo the 10 external radiation treatments close to her home.
“Our treatment goal for her was to destroy the lesion without causing significant side effects to her healthy brain tissue,” says Dr. Wesson.
Kathlene admits she was frightened after she received her diagnosis and treatment recommendations. “But they explained everything in a clear and concise manner, and we all agreed this was the best treatment for me,” she says. “I didn’t want to lose my sight, my memory or my ability to recognize my children.”
Fighting for Others
Kathlene’s combined treatment delivered a one-two punch to her brain metastasis. More than one year after her October 2014 Gamma Knife treatment, the brain tumor hasn’t returned. Except for some loss of peripheral vision in her left eye, she hasn’t developed any significant side effects.
“The gamma knife treatment preserved her cognitive functioning and ability to think and remain who she was before the cancer,” says Dr. D’Ambrosio.
Kathlene sees Dr. Wesson every three months for a follow-up evaluation and MRI to check her progress. Maintenance chemotherapy has kept the lung cancer in remission.
Today, Kathlene is cancer-free, exercising, vacationing, and solving crossword puzzles to keep her mind sharp. Acutely mindful of her experiences with a life-threatening disease, she participated this past fall in a breast cancer fundraising walk in Newark.
“When you have faced cancer as I have, you realize that support for all persons with this disease is important,” says Kathlene. “We have to stand together to increase awareness of how to prevent and treat cancer as soon as it is detected.”