Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute: Progress for patients with tumors

Way Beyond the Point

Rebecca Scheetz, center, celebrates the last of 30 proton therapy radiation treatments with her husband Marshall and her mom, Rachel Merlin.

Four years ago, I’d been smelling perfume that wasn’t there. I Googled it and found the term ‘olfactory hallucination,’ which had a number of possible causes. Ultimately, I had a seven-hour craniotomy — brain surgery — to remove a golf-ball-sized benign tumor sitting on my olfactory groove. Two years later, the tumor was growing back,” says patient Rebecca Scheetz. “It was like a wart that has been removed but can grow back. We knew this could happen. Only this time I took five months to get seven medical opinions. I was given five options: gamma knife, proton therapy, craniotomy, resection through the nose and taking no action. We decided that proton therapy was the best way to tackle this situation,” Scheetz continues.

Scheetz says her insurance company approved her second request for coverage of the treatment at the Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute (HUPTI). “I was then fitted for my immobilization mask and had a scan so they could start mapping my brain to figure out the physics of my treatment. Science and technology are amazing,” Scheetz says.

The HUPTI website explains the science and technology with graphics and easy-to-understand language:

“Proton therapy uses a precision-focused radiation beam to target and treat both benign and malignant tumors. Unnecessary radiation delivery to uninvolved normal tissues should be avoided whenever possible, and proton beam radiation allows for the maximal sparing of normal tissues. Unlike traditional radiation, which has a more generalized path that sends radiation through the tumor, proton radiation utilizes specific frequencies to help dial in the intended point of treatment. This creates a more targeted radiation that allows physicians the ability to focus higher levels of radiation directly on the tumor. The result spares more healthy cells, tissue and organs from radiation, which can significantly reduce side effects and treatment discomfort.”

Scheetz is one of more than 3,000 patients who have had cancers and other tumors treated at HUPTI since its establishment in 2010. HUPTI proudly reports good news about recent progress. “The addition of an on-site magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine will be a big boost to the facility, as it will eliminate the need to outsource imaging to other locations. This is a big win for Hampton University and HUPTI as well as a major progression for our patients’ care. Positive developments such as this one allow for expedited patient treatments and previously inaccessible research opportunities,” says Dr. Vahagn Nazaryan, HUPTI’s executive director.

Scheetz explains that patients at HUPTI ring a brass bell when they complete their therapy. “The day I rang the bell was the same day another patient graduated — she was young, maybe 12. We hugged. As I was leaving, the ‘red, white and blue guy,’ always wearing some kind of American flag, hugged me and made a joke about how ‘hard’ therapy is — ‘you come in, you lie down for two minutes, nothing hurts and you leave!’”

Scheetz says that two weeks later, “I had a few very minor tension headaches for about four days after my radiation ended, but thankfully nothing else; no fatigue or headaches or nausea at all. The redness on my forehead has totally dissipated. I guess you could say I felt normal — whatever that means.

“I had an MRI about six weeks after proton radiation,” Scheetz continues. “The tumor has not grown, which is great. The tumor has not shrunk, which is expected and fine. Next MRI or the one after that my doctor expects to see my tumor exhibit the ‘swiss cheese’ effect — have holes in it. I have no lingering effects from the radiation aside from a bald spot on my forehead at the top of my hairline. My right eyebrow fell out but grew back. Radiation is the gift that keeps on giving. That’s a good thing since it takes a long time to shrink or obliterate this type of tumor. It’s not so good in the beauty department, but I feel great!”

Regarding the mysterious perfume smells, Scheetz notes other kinds of progress. “I do still have olfactory hallucinations, but they have dramatically decreased over time.”

Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute
Address: 40 Enterprise Parkway, Hampton, VA 23666
Contact: Cordereau Dye, multimedia marketing specialist
Email: Cordereau.dye@hamptonproton.org
Phone: 877-251-6800
Website: hamptonproton.org

About Tess Goldblatt 20 Articles
Tess Goldblatt wrote for the Oyster Pointer from 2006-2012 and rejoined the staff in 2019 when her nest emptied. Tess and her husband downsized to a condo on Buckroe Beach where she loves photography and crafting with beach combing finds... and writing fun stories for us!

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