A Ray of Hope

New technology at Mary Greeley Medical Center offers options for brain cancer patients.

Mary Wamoto, her voice lilting with the accents of her native Kenya, sits in the coffee shop at Mary Greeley Medical Center, talking about battling cancer and being separated from her children. 

She recounts the details with faith and optimism. Wamoto's unyielding belief that bad times can be overcome gave her much-needed strength when she became the first brain cancer patient to benefit from stereotactic radiotherapy (SRT), a new cancer treatment technology at Mary Greeley Medical Center's William R. Bliss Cancer Center

"It was unbelievably hard for me," Wamoto says. "But I'm a mother of four. I'm working on a nursing degree. I have a job. My life is very important and I'll do whatever it takes. I told myself that I needed to be bold and fearless and get through it."

SRT, which is usually found in large metropolitan medical centers, is a specialized radiation therapy used to treat cancer by directing a radiation beam to the tumor to destroy it. It delivers a high dose of radiation in a short period of time, decreasing treatment duration and minimizing side effects. 

Dr. Joseph Rhoades brought the SRT program to Mary Greeley Medical Center when he joined the oncology staff this year. He also used it while on staff at John Stoddard Cancer Center in Des Moines.

"With SRT we're giving our patients hope," says Rhoades. "A lot of them have heard horror stories about radiation. Our patients are really relieved we can offer SRT treatment."

SRT is an option for people who have four or fewer brain lesions that are 4 centimeters or less in diameter. Some people who have a stubborn tumor after whole brain radiation might be treated with SRT.

"The benefits are tremendous," says Rhoades. "With whole brain radiation you can have memory problems, hair loss, extreme fatigue and other side effects. With SRT just a one millimeter rim of normal tissue is affected. There is no hair loss. There are no memory problems."

What Rhoades calls "steroid-free survival" is another plus. SRT does not cause significant brain swelling, which is treated with steroids. Long-term use of steroids can cause high blood sugar, weak legs, insomnia and other side effects.

"Being steroid-free improves quality of life and quantity of life," says Rhoades.