MORRISTOWN, NJ – The latest piece of high precision radiotherapy equipment to treat cancer at Atlantic Health System’s Morristown Medical Center, the TrueBeam system, went into service on May 8. Ben Christener, who has small cell lung cancer, was one of the first two patients to be treated.
Christener’s cancer was discovered after a CT Scan showed a mass in his chest. At the hospital, a lymph node biopsy came back negative but a biopsy of the mass during a bronchoscopy was positive. “The mass was 9 cm by 5 cm and was growing and threatening to cut off the bronchus,” Christener said.
He began chemotherapy April 11, and was released five days later. His oncologist is Maithili Rao, MD. His radiation oncologist, Mona Karim MD, vice chair of radiation oncology at Morristown Medical Center, recommended he wait a week to begin radiotherapy treatment until the TrueBeam system was available.
Dr. Karim said “Surgery is not an option” for those with small cell lung cancer. The ideal “treatment would be a combination of chemo and radiation.” Radiation is “his curative intense treatment” and with the TrueBeam, “We are able to do better targeting and faster, more accurate treatments,” than before, she said.
TrueBeam delivers the radiation faster and the patient is not on the table as long, she said. The treatment lasts less than five minutes, as opposed to 10 to 20 minutes on other machines. There are no body molds or marking on the skin for targeting purposes, “Now we use body anatomy,” Dr. Karim said. It’s better for the patient because it’s more comfortable and the reproducibility of the position is better,” Dr. Karim said.
Dr. Karim said another advantage is the ability to adjust treatments because the machine takes a CT scan with every treatment.
Christener said, “It is very rapid and I am very relaxed” and, that after his second treatment, “You could actually see my tumor had shrunk.”
According to Dr. Karim, the TrueBeam system has a wide range of capability from Intensity-modulated treatments and Rapid Arc to Stereotactic Radio Surgery, “all of the state-of-the-art techniques.”
A Team Approach
A former volunteer firefighter in Andover Township, who was a construction project manager, when he was diagnosed, Christener has a positive outlook and praise for the cancer center and its staff. “I have not met one person from this hospital that hasn’t been helpful, pleasant and gracious in one form or another … It’s a team. I haven’t met anybody here who wants to march against the grain,” he said.
He told a story of what happened when an RN in the Infusion Center discovered he had a hard to find port for administrating his chemotherapy. She made sure when she left for the day that any nurse who needed to find that port knew where it was and, “When I came in the next day, a new nurse said, ‘I know you, you are the man with the hard to find port.’ Now they all recognize me by my port. It’s a wonderful thing that someone cared enough to do that.”
Asked if he had anything to add, he said, “I live life every day as if it is going to be my last one,” but that doesn’t mean he’s given up, he’s looking for a job as a construction project manager when he is done with therapy.