Meet Marlene

“I chose Gamma Knife treatment based on its effectiveness and safety.”

To see the confidence and vitality that Marlene Gomez displays every day with her husband and young son, you would never know an acoustic neuroma almost got in the way of it all.

And she owes it all to Valley’s Gamma Knife Center.

When Marlene was 18 years old and working as a filing clerk in a pediatricians’ office, the doctors and her co-workers became concerned about her frequent migraine headaches.

From Nurse to Patient

Listening to their advice, she underwent an MRI, which revealed an unrelated tiny pituitary tumor that did not require treatment. Eventually the migraines subsided.

Fast forward to 2007. Now a graduate of William Paterson University’s Nursing School, Marlene had a follow-up MRI, which showed the pituitary tumor was unremarkable. However, another tumor had arisen ominously in her left inner ear. A rare mass called an acoustic neuroma had developed on the main nerve that leads from Marlene’s inner ear to her brain. Although benign and usually slow-growing, an untreated acoustic neuroma can lead to serious medical problems, including hearing loss, vertigo, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and/or balance disorders. If the tumor becomes large and presses on the brain, it can become life-threatening.

“At the time, the acoustic neuroma was small enough that my doctors felt it was safe to watch it and repeat the MRI in about a year or so,” recalls Marlene, a registered nurse in Valley’s emergency department. “Amazingly, I did not have any of the usual symptoms of dizziness, tinnitus, or hearing problems, and my migraines disappeared.”

By 2008, however, when her next MRI was scheduled, the acoustic neuroma had grown about 25 percent in size, to about as large as a walnut. Marlene began asking colleagues and other healthcare professionals whom they would recommend to treat her tumor. Their response: Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D.

As Director of the Neuro-Oncology Disease Management Team and the Institute for Brain and Spine Radiosurgery and Co-Director of the Gamma Knife Center at Valley’s Daniel and Gloria Blumenthal Cancer Center, Dr. D’Ambrosio specializes in diagnosing and treating all types of malignant and benign tumors and other medical conditions of the brain and neurologic system.

“Dr. D’Ambrosio made me feel so comfortable that I was in the right hands,” recalls Marlene. “He told me that because the tumor was caught early and I was young, my prognosis would be excellent once it was treated.”

Informed that her choices were either neurosurgery or Gamma Knife Radiosurgery, Marlene says that Dr. D’Ambrosio recommended the Gamma Knife procedure to reduce her risk of permanent hearing loss, which can occur with surgery.

“He also said there was a possibility that the tumor had underlying structures that would make the surgery riskier, and that there was a slight possibility that if there was a surgical complication, it could lead to facial paralysis,” she says. “I was only 30 years old. I chose Gamma Knife treatment based on its effectiveness and safety.”

Bloodless and Painless

Despite its name, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery is not surgery at all, but instead a non-invasive treatment that utilizes focused beams of radiation to shrink and destroy tumors of the head and neck. At the Gamma Knife Center, Dr. D’Ambrosio and co-director/radiation oncologist Chad DeYoung, M.D., use a state-of-the-art Leksell Gamma Knife Perfexion™ system to treat cancerous and non-malignant tumors and illnesses of the brain. The Perfexion is the most advanced Gamma Knife technology available today and has been used to treat more than 600,000 patients worldwide.

“Gamma Knife treatment is bloodless, painless and incision-free,” explains Dr. D’Ambrosio, who has been using Gamma Knife technology for 10 years. “We use 190+ beams of highly focused radiation to target the tumor. Healthy normal tissue adjacent to the tumor is not harmed. Patients do not require general anesthesia, and they go home the same day.”

Coordinated by the Gamma Knife Center’s nurse navigator Susan Lombardo, R.N., Marlene and the center’s team of physicians and physicists met prior to her treatment. Marlene was relieved when the team told her that having Gamma Knife Radiosurgery didn’t mean having to put her personal plans on hold. “My husband and I were engaged, and the team said it would be safe to get married first and then be treated.”

What’s more, Marlene’s concern about her ability to bear children was not an issue with Gamma Knife surgery.

“The radiation we use during Gamma Knife Radiosurgery is so precisely focused on the tumor that there are no worries about future fertility in young patients,” notes Dr. DeYoung.

Four months after Marlene and Mauricio were married and settled into a home in Passaic, she was scheduled for Gamma Knife Radiosurgery in November 2011.

On the day of treatment, Marlene was given a local anesthetic and fitted with a lightweight head frame that immobilized her head. The technology incorporated three-dimensional information from her MRIs and CT scans to show the exact location of the tumor and enable the treatment team to configure the exact dosage and concentration of radiation beams. The Gamma Knife treatment itself took only about 30 minutes. Marlene recovered in the Gamma Knife Center for a couple of hours and then returned home.

The Road to Treatment Success

Since undergoing treatment in November 2011, Marlene has been followed by the Gamma Knife Center’s team and undergone MRIs to check the progression of the tumor. She has experienced some hearing loss and ringing in the affected ear, a possible side effect of treatment, which is monitored by regular hearing tests. However, Marlene says, “I’ll take that over complete hearing loss in that ear or the possible facial paralysis that could have occurred if I had gone the surgical route.”

“Her prognosis is excellent,” says Dr. D’Ambrosio. “Follow-up imaging is stable, and her face is symmetric and strong. Because she is so young, she will need annual MRI scans for the next several years.”

Marlene is grateful that her treatment caused minimal interruption to her career and personal life. “Gamma Knife Radiosurgery enabled me to return quickly to nursing full-time,” having returned to her shift just five days after treatment, she reports. And Marlene and Mauricio stay active and healthy with regular weekend adventures, camping trips and visits to the Jersey Shore.

Best of all, with her acoustic neuroma behind her, Marlene and Mauricio were also able to focus their attention on starting a family. In June 2014, they welcomed son Mason Alexander, who was born at The Valley Hospital. “We couldn’t be happier and now feel that our lives are complete,” she says.

* This procedure may not be suitable for every patient. All patients must be evaluated by a physician as to the appropriateness of performing the procedure. The above testimonial represents the individual's response and reaction to the procedure; however, no medical procedure is risk-free. Associated potential risks and complications should be discussed with the physician rendering this procedure.

Find out more about Acoustic Neuromas