Breast and lung cancer survivor: My Gamma Knife surgery
Kellie Bramlet Blackburn
If Mary Lynn Moser could use one phrase to describe her Gamma Knife® surgery, it would be, “It looked a lot worse than it was.”
Like many other patients, the lung cancer and breast cancer survivor was intimidated by the “halo” that she’d need to wear during the procedure. But in the end, she found the Gamma Knife surgery simple, which was a relief.
The benefits of Gamma Knife surgery
Neurosurgeon Jeffery S. Weinberg, M.D., first recommended the Gamma Knife surgery when a follow-up scan in December 2016 showed a cyst-like spot in her brain. It wasn’t clear if the spot was cancerous, and a biopsy was not feasible. But because Mary Lynn had already had breast cancer treatment in 2005 and 2010 and three lung cancer surgeries in 2012, 2015 and early 2017, Dr. Weinberg recommended the Gamma Knife radiation surgery.
The alternative was two weeks of traditional radiation treatment. Gamma Knife could be performed during a single appointment. And it was less invasive. Gamma Knife surgery isn’t like traditional surgery. It uses strong radiation and targets a single spot where the cancer is located, so it’s less likely to kill healthy cells.
Mary Lynn decided to go forward with Gamma Knife surgery after she was approved for it, and traveled from her home in Florida to MD Anderson for the procedure in February 2017.
Mary Lynn’s Gamma Knife surgery
The preparation took more time than the actual Gamma Knife surgery, Mary Lynn says. First, her care team used a local anesthetic to numb the four spots on her head where the halo would be connected – two on her forehead and two on the back of her head. After that, Mary Lynn wasn’t able to feel any pain.
“It reminded me of when the dentist numbs your gums before doing any dental work,” she says.
Dr. Weinberg carefully aligned her halo over her head and neck, using screws to keep it place. This would keep her head from moving during the procedure so only the targeted area would receive radiation.
Once the halo was in place, Mary Lynn’s care team told her to take a break and go have breakfast.
When Mary Lynn returned, she was ready to start the procedure, which was led by brain and spine radiation oncologist, Erik_Sulman, M.D. She lay down in a chamber, as if she were undergoing an MRI. She stayed still for the 35-minute radiation treatment. But that amount of time varies from patient to patient, and can take anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours.
“It was a very advanced procedure, but easy for the patient,” says Mary Lynn, who flew home the next day.
Two nurses, Nancy Cumagun and Theresa Morlock, assisted her throughout the procedure.
“They were outstanding in helping me through the process,” she says.
Gamma Knife side effects may include headaches or nausea. In very rare cases, they may include brain swelling. But Mary Lynn was fortunate to not experience any of these.
She’s currently undergoing chemotherapy to help ensure that her cancer does not return.
As she says, “My faith, husband, family, and friends have sustained me throughout this 12-year cancer journey, and I feel blessed to be able to experience MD Anderson’s advanced approaches and very talented doctors and staff.”