Woman gets cancer treatment with proton therapy

Posted at 10:36 AM, Aug 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-24 10:38:02-04

People in Ohio now have a brand new option when it comes to cancer treatments. It is the first in the state, and it's available right here in Cleveland. 

Melissa Hennie was 15 years old when she was treated at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital for a benign cyst in her eardrum. Nine years later, it returned. Only this time, it was cancerous. Now, she is back at University Hospitals, fighting a very different battle.

Five days a week at the hospital, Hennie slips on a mask. She's not technically a superhero but she might as well be.

"It's kind of, you don't really have any other way to look at it. It's either be sad every day and just go through your day being sad about it, or just be positive and that's what keeps you moving really," she explained.

We caught up with Hennie on her 8th time behind the mask; A laser pointed at her head as she fights an invisible enemy, with remarkable bravery on a virtual battlefield.

"It's scary," she told us. "It's a scary thing, but I never really had time to let it catch up with me."

At just 24 years old, Hennie is fighting her cancer in a way no one else in Ohio has before.

"They're like, you're actually going to be the first one," she recounted. "And I'm like, oh! They're like yeah, in Ohio. And I was like Oh!! Well, that's crazy!"

The "laser" is a proton beam, designed to offer targeted radiation therapy at University Hospitals.

"Melissa has a tumor that's in the base of skull," noted Dr. David Mansur, vice chair of proton therapy at UH. "It was removed surgically, but there's a risk that it could recur from cells that have been left behind. And by using proton beam, we were able to eliminate a lot of unnecessary dose that would have gone to her brain."

That means more dose to the tumor area itself, and less to surrounding healthy tissue and organs, greatly reducing the risk for long-term effects from radiation.

"The first treatment was kind of scary, because you have a beam right next to your face and you're kind of freaking out a little bit," Hennie recalled. "But I'm really close in my faith and everything, and I know everything's going to be ok."

Dr. Mansur said Hennie's prognosis is good. She will have 23 total radiation treatments with the proton beam and then finish out her chemotherapy.

Hennie told NewsChannel 5 she is looking forward to getting it all done so she can move on with her life and hopefully never have to do it again.