Proton therapy for children
September 30, 2015
Young rhabdomyosarcoma patient polishes his superpowers
BY Dawn Dorsey
A little boy with a rare cancer like rhabdomyosarcoma is still a little boy.
And like many 3-year-old boys, Mason Macri is fascinated with superheroes.
That's why his parents tell him that each chemotherapy and proton therapy treatment recharges his superpowers. It works much the same as the spoonful of sugar about which Mary Poppins sings.
"We knew he would have questions about what was happening, and we wanted to say something positive but not lie," says his father Iain Macri. "It's really helped a lot."
Trip to ER reveals rhabdomyosarcoma
Mason, the 1,000th pediatric patient treated at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, has rhabdomyosarcoma of the bladder, a rare soft tissue solid tumor. They are found most often in children and teens and make up about 3 percent of childhood cancers. Some 350 cases of rhabdomyosarcoma are diagnosed each year in the United States.
Last spring, when Mason's mother, Chantelle Bacon, noticed he was having bowel problems, she took him to their family doctor in Windsor, Ontario, just across the border from Detroit. He told her not to worry andprescribed a stool softener. But a month later, when Mason couldn't urinate and his stomach was distended, his parents took him to the emergency room. A nultrasound revealed a mass in the pelvic area, and he was transported byambulance to London, Ontario.
In short order, Mason was diagnosed and his rhabdomyosarcoma treatment began.
“Mason’s first day of chemotherapy was his third birthday present,” Iain says.
Internet research leads to MD Anderson
After six weeks of intense chemotherapy, Mason was allowed to go home to continue treatment, returning to London every three weeks. Radiation therapy was not an option because of Mason’s age and the location of the tumor. The treatment may cause serious long-term side effects in children, including secondary tumors or damage to surrounding organs. The hope was that chemotherapy would shrink the tumor enough to remove it surgically.
In the meantime, while researching options on the Internet, Chantelle and Iain discovered proton beam therapy. Because it delivers high levels of radiation directly to a tumor without damaging surrounding normal tissue, it’s a good treatment choice for some pediatric cancers.
A second opinion and more imaging at a larger hospital in Toronto found another mass, which took the possibility of surgery off the table. Doctors there agreed proton therapy was a good option, but there are no proton centers in Canada. Only a few in the U.S. treat pediatric patients.
Further research led the couple to an article on the MD Anderson website about a boy with the same type of cancer who was treated successfully at the Proton Therapy Center.
“The power of the Internet led us to MD Anderson,” Iain says. “The boy’s father spoke so highly of MD Anderson and the Proton Therapy Center. He is doing incredible seven years after treatment, and that solidified our decision to come here.”
Proton Therapy Center comforts parents and super boy
Leaving their jobs and home behind, the family moved to an apartment close to MD Anderson. Chantelle’s parents drove from Canada with their car loaded with comforts of home, including toys for Mason.
Mason will have 30 proton treatments, Monday through Friday for six weeks, and his chemotherapy will continue. His parents say he loves the nurses at the Proton Therapy Center, and he continues to build his superpowers.
“At first we were nervous,” Chantelle says. “But everyone at the center made us feel so confident and safe. We knew the first time we went there we had made the right decision. It took a four-month journey to get us here, but we’re where we’re supposed to be.”
It took a four-month journey to get here, but we're where we're supposed to be.