TrueBeam radiation technology allows for more accurate, quicker cancer treatment

Esophageal cancer survivor credits medical team at Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion for seamless recovery

It was the unusual fatigue that tipped off Elaine Dembe-Fox.

The then 70-year-old was very active. As a fitness professional, she was teaching 23 yoga and personal training sessions around the county, in addition to her own personal workouts and daily yoga routines.

When she began coming home extremely tired, she told her husband something must be wrong. 

Dr. Joshua McKenzie, Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion radiation oncologist

“I am really tapped into my body,” the now 72-year-old says. “I spend a lot of time listening to my body so I really suspected something was wrong.”

Elaine first went to her ENT physician and then her gastroenterologist. She was “poked, prodded and scanned,” and on Dec. 16, 2015, got an early morning phone call. As she suspected, she had cancer. Elaine was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the distal esophagus/GE junction, Stage IIB.

“It wasn’t a huge surprise, but still, you could have knocked me over with a feather because I never would have expected someone like me who is extremely active and makes all her food from scratch for 45 years would get cancer,” Elaine says.

Esophageal cancer is diagnosed in approximately 17,000 people in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. It makes up about one percent of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. Men are more likely to get esophageal cancer with a lifetime risk of about 1 in 132. Women have a 1 in 455 chance of being diagnosed.

Esophageal cancer is typically treated with chemotherapy and radiation followed by surgical removal of the affected area of the esophagus. Elaine chose the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion for her treatment home. 

She underwent 10 weeks of chemotherapy under the guidance of Dr. Mark Taylor. She also had 28 treatments of radiation over the course of a month with Dr. Joshua McKenzie. Elaine’s radiation was performed using the TrueBeam device.

What is TrueBeam?

TrueBeam is an advanced linear accelerator capable of delivering the most up-to-date cancer treatment available, says Dr. McKenzie. It generates and delivers both electron and photon radiation treatments and has the capability for real-time image guided therapy utilizing stereotactic, respiratory-gated and high dose rate delivery techniques.

“TrueBeam is best suited for all types of cancers,” Dr. McKenzie says. “It can efficiently treat superficial tumors involving the skin as well as deep tumors in the chest, abdomen, pelvis or brain.”

TrueBeam delivers a radiation beam that targets the cancer and keeps exposure to healthy cells to a minimum. No incisions are made during TrueBeam treatment. The non-invasive TrueBeam rotates around the patient, who is lying still on a bed, to deliver the radiation dose from different angles. Treatments typically take 10 minutes or less.

Elaine said she never found the experience scary since the room is lit and she wasn’t enclosed in anything. In fact, she found the machine mesmerizing. As a former dancer, Elaine enjoyed the choreographed and gracefully moves the device makes around the room.

Another benefit to TrueBeam radiation is that it’s precise delivery in a shorter period of time than other treatment methods results in less negative impact on a patient’s quality of life and activities of daily living, Dr. McKenzie says.

Elaine says the treatment didn’t totally zap her, but some days she felt more tired than others. She reduced the amount of fitness sessions she was teaching, but didn’t completely eliminate all of them, and she still maintained a personal exercise routine.

“I’d go and teach a class and then come over here for my radiation and then I’d go and see another client,” Elaine says. “I didn’t let the treatment tie me down because I didn’t want to start feeling sorry for myself, and I didn’t want to feel anxious. I wanted to feel normal.”

Elaine completed radiation and chemo in April 2016. Her surgery was on June 29, 2016, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, which she chose because it was close to family.

“Mrs. Fox performed excellently surrounding her surgery and largely returned to all of her normal activities as she did prior to her diagnosis,” Dr. McKenzie says. “We could not have hoped for a better outcome, and she is a shining example of what can be achieved through the treatment delivered at the LCRP.”

Today, Elaine is cancer free and says she feels fantastic. She credits her athleticism and medical team for her seamless recovery.

“I feel like one of the luckiest women alive because of my wonderful medical team here in Savannah and New York,” Elaine says. “Without them, it would have been much more of an ordeal.”

Read more about Elaine Dembe-Fox’s survival story here. 

The TrueBeam technology is available at the Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion in Savannah and Hilton Head/Bluffton. If you’d like more information about cancer surgical services or comprehensive cancer care and physician specialists, call 912-819-5704.

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St.Joseph's Hospital Campus: 912-819-4100

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