Executive Director Message

StuartKlein.pngThere are now 32 operating proton therapy centers in the U.S. and more on the way. While this means a greater number of cancer patients may have a facility nearby, it also means patients need to look deeper at the quality of the centers offering proton therapy before deciding where to be treated. Just because the equipment is in the building doesn’t necessarily guarantee the center has the expertise and experience needed to provide high-quality proton therapy. The training and skill of the physicians and the entire clinical team can mean the difference in a patient’s outcome including quality of life following treatment. The UF Health Proton Therapy Institute has the most experienced proton therapy physicians and staff in the Southeast U.S. and is nationally accredited by the American College of Radiology. To read more about us and what sets us apart, I invite you to visit our website.

 

Stuart L. Klein

Executive Director

Positive Proton Moment: Firefighters Gather to Celebrate One of Their Own

By Theresa Edwards Makrush

When patients complete their course of proton therapy at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute, they ring Aud’s Chime in The Players Lobby. Often their friends and family are there to help celebrate the moment along with fellow patients and caregivers. Applause, hugs, and smiles always accompany the sound of the chime.

A recent “graduate,” as patients who complete treatment are called, had an extraordinary group assembled for his chime-ringing day. Brian Kernohan, a lieutenant with 15 years of experience at the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, was surrounded by an estimated 100 fellow firefighters and first responders. News crews from three local TV stations were there to capture the remarkable scene. (See news stories at news4jax, actionnewsjax and firstcoastnews.)

The outpouring of support was overwhelming, said Brian’s wife Katie. “I don’t know of any other company that is this supportive. We are grateful and overjoyed,” she said. “We love everyone here. They are such an encouragement.”

Brian said that two weeks before Thanksgiving he was suffering from intense head pain and went to the emergency room at a local hospital. After receiving the results of an MRI less than 24 hours later, the 36-year-old was told he needed surgery to remove a rare medulloblastoma brain tumor that is more typical in children under the age of 10. Following a successful surgery, Brian had 30 proton therapy sessions to target radiation in the area where the tumor was removed as part of a treatment plan that may also include chemotherapy.

According to Brian, having a positive attitude has helped him cope with treatment, along with the support of his family members and coworkers he thinks of as family. “My brothers really stepped up today,” he said as he looked out at the smiling faces lining the spiral staircase from top to bottom.

Christina Mershell Joins Staff As Business Development Coordinator

By Theresa Edwards Makrush

Alumni Robert Davis

The UF Health Proton Therapy Institute is pleased to announce the addition of Christina Mershell as its business development coordinator. In this newly created role, she will help promote awareness, build referral relationships and increase public interactions between the community and the Institute.

“We are excited to have Christina on board,” said Brad Robbert, director of operations. “Her dedication to building awareness of proton therapy and relationships with the medical community will further our mission to give cancer patients the best chance for cure with fewer side effects.”

Christina previously worked as the patient support administrator for the Texas Center for Proton Therapy in Irving, Texas, and was part of the team that launched the facility. While there, she established the patient intake and administrative services departments, then started the patient support program and conducted community outreach. Her previous experience includes work at the Ronald McDonald House in Jacksonville and more than five years at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute on the administrative team.

Christina was inspired at an early age to choose an occupation in cancer care. “When I was in 7th grade, I did a project on pediatric cancers and resources available to children and their families,” she said. “I visited a Ronald McDonald House as a part of that project and knew then that I wanted to work with cancer patients.”

To reach Christina with potential community outreach or speaking opportunities, email her at CLMershell@floridaproton.org, or call (904) 831-4034.

Two New UF Studies Investigated the Use of Proton Therapy Among Patients With Locally-advanced, Non-small Cell Lung Cancer

By Bradford S. Hoppe, MD

Alumni Robert Davis

The standard-of-care treatment for patients with locally-advanced, non-small cell lung cancer, or Stage 3 NSCLC, is concurrent chemotherapy and radiation therapy, including proton therapy, as a potentially less-toxic, yet effective, treatment option. Clinical trials for Stage 3 NSCLC are open at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute examining 1) hypofractionated (an accelerated course of proton treatments delivered over 3 weeks instead of 7 weeks) proton therapy with chemotherapy and; 2) proton therapy versus X-ray radiation. Unfortunately, these clinical trials have been difficult to accrue patients. Two new studies published by UF explored these issues surrounding the accrual.

In the first study, the researchers demonstrated the main barrier for enrolling patients into clinical trials was patient ineligibility, due to several medical issues making them “unfavorable,” including previous lung cancer surgery, poor lung function, weight loss, prior cancers, and other medical comorbidities. Additionally, it was shown that patients getting proton therapy for Stage 3 NSCLC at UF are older than typical Stage 3 NSCLC patients. This finding is likely due to older patients having Medicare, which covers proton therapy for lung cancer, while many private payers are not covering treatment cost—even on clinical trials.

The second study by the UF researchers looked at the outcomes of 90 consecutive patients treated with proton therapy at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute.

The two-year Stage 3 NSCLC patient outcomes, published last month in Acta Oncologica, [1] suggest that favorable- and unfavorable-risk patients responded similarly to proton therapy. Patients were categorized as favorable-risk, people who had no other health issues, or unfavorable-risk, people who had one or more of the following risk factors:

  • age ≥ 80
  • stage IV cancer
  • weight loss >10% in 3 months
  • performance status ≥2
  • FEV1 <1.0 or oxygen dependency
  • prior lung cancer
  • prior lung surgery
  • prior 2nd cancer in the past 3 years
  • prior chest irradiation

After two years, the overall survival was 52% and 45% for favorable- and unfavorable-risk patients, respectively. Overall survival measures the percentage of people in the study who are still alive. “Most patients treated with proton therapy for Stage 3 NSCLC have unfavorable risk factors. These patients had similar outcomes to favorable-risk patients,” said researchers. “Enrollment in future clinical trials may improve if eligibility is less restrictive.”

In fact, these study results have led to a re-evaluation of clinical trials eligibility requirements and broadened them for patients with Stage 3 NSCLC.

 

[1] He J. Zhu, Romaine C. Nichols, Randal H. Henderson, Christopher G. Morris, Stella Flampouri, Dat C. Pham, Christopher L. Klassen, Vandana Seeram, James D. Cury, Lisa Jones, Lisa McGee & Bradford S. Hoppe (2019) Impact of unfavorable factors on outcomes among inoperable stage II-IV Nonsmall cell lung cancer patients treated with proton therapy, Acta Oncologica, DOI: 10.1080/0284186X.2018.1546060

Gifts That Keep On Giving

By Theresa Edwards Makrush

Alumni Robert Davis

Each December, The Players Championship Lobby at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute is transformed into the North Pole to help children who are on treatment, and their families, experience the joy of the holiday season. And thanks to the generosity of two very special patient alumni and their families, the celebration is even more meaningful.

Hundreds of the gifts distributed to pediatric patients and their siblings during the party were donated by The Believe Foundation. The charity started out in 2014 when seven-year-old Carolina Parson who was on treatment for a brain tumor, and her sister Nicole opened up their piggy banks to buy presents for other children who were on treatment or in the hospital during the holidays. Their brother Michael and their parents Kris and Tabitha chipped in along with family, friends and others in the community. That year, and every year since, they have raised thousands of dollars and donated presents. In addition, The Believe Foundation has over the years delivered Mothers’ Day gift baskets to mothers of children who are on treatment, helped a girl who was on treatment during her birthday have a memorable encounter with a “princess,” and donated countless Band-Aids, grocery gift cards, iTunes gift cards, high chairs and other items that are needed by the pediatric program. They raise awareness of childhood cancer, collect donations and provide support to families. Some of their fundraisers include the Ride Down Childhood Cancer Rodeo, a car show and The Believe Foundation Invitational 5K.

The gifts at the “Polar Express” Party, as the annual celebration is called, are distributed to each child and their siblings by Santa Joe McGee. He started as a professional Santa Claus following his own treatment for cancer at the Institute. Inspired by the children he saw who were dealing with cancer and by his late brother who was the “original” Santa in the family, Santa Joe has been a welcome addition to the party since 2013. His wife Dawn has joined the fun, and now appears as Mrs. Claus. Not only do Joe and Dawn give their time, they also use his other professional Santa appearances to raise funds for the pediatric program. This year Joe and Dawn donated more than $16,500.

“The tremendous impact made by the Parson family through The Believe Foundation and Joe McGee through his Santa appearances cannot be overstated,” said Stuart Klein, executive director of the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. “We are tremendously grateful for their generosity to help improve the proton therapy experience for our pediatric patients. And we are profoundly humbled to be part of Carolina’s and Joe’s cancer journey.”

Want to see what it’s like at the party? Take a look at this news clip from WJXT-TV 4’s River City Live.

About This Newsletter

The Precision Newsletter is an electronic-only publication that is distributed by email. Each issue is sent monthly to patients, alumni patients and friends of the University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute. As the official newsletter of the Institute, the content is compiled and prepared by our communications representative and approved by the editor Stuart Klein, executive director of UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. Special bulletin newsletters may occasionally be prepared when timely topics and new developments in proton therapy occur. If you would like to send a Letter to the Editor, please click here.

 

Keep In Touch

It is easy to stay in touch with us online at floridaproton.org . Look at the top right corner of the homepage for Facebook , Twitter and YouTube icons, click and join us in the social media conversation. Also on the right side of the homepage there is a button for VTOC Patient Portal . Click here to open your secure account, view your records, complete clinical trial questionnaires and communicate with your nurse case manager.

 

Knowing how you are feeling during and after treatment is essential to providing you the best care possible and contributes to the care of future patients.