Fight cancer... with TrueBeam technology
Having been a professional pool player for almost 20 years, Dave Hemmah, 49, knows how to hold steady under immense pressure. Sinking the perfect shot while touring throughout the country, often for three months at a time, Hemmah learned how to calm his nerves even when the competition was tough.
Little did he know, however, that these abilities would be useful as a cancer patient. While undergoing radiation treatment at Torrance Memorial Medical Center, his main task during the 34 radiation sessions was "just to hold still; it was a good chance to do some breathing exercises," says Hemmah.
Five years ago, Hemmah thought he was through with cancer. He had a successful surgery to remove his prostate after an elevated PSA tipped off doctors that something was amiss. Although there was a small spot of cancerous tissue that remained post-surgery, his doctors didn't think it would go on to be problematic.
But recently, his PSA started climbing again; tests revealed that his cancer had come back locally. He went to see Thyra Endicott, a radiation oncologist with Torrance Memorial Medical Center's
Radiation Oncology Department.
Dr. Endicott suggested treatment with the TrueBeam, a state-of-the-art linear accelerator that precisely hones in on tumors and cancerous areas while sparing normal tissue. Torrance Memorial is the first hospital in the South Bay to have the machine (UCLA in West Los Angeles also has one), and the technology is being used to treat brain tumors, cancer of the oral cavity and throat, and for prostate cancers that need very tight margins.
Hemmah was one of the first patients to be treated with the TrueBeam at Torrance Memorial, and he wasn't sure what to expect. "I was warned that with radiation there were horror stories," says Hemmah, whose friend had undergone radiation and didn't have great things to say about it.
Although all radiation has side effects, the TrueBeam is very precise—giving sub millimeter accuracy—so the radiation is highly directed to the cancerous tissue – not healthy tissue. As a result, the areas around it, including vital organs, are less likely to be damaged during the course of treatment. Because of this precision, radiologists are able to deliver higher doses to the areas that need it, resulting in shorter treatment times. All of these factors can translate into fewer side effects for the patient.
After 34 sessions lasting about ten minutes each, Hemmah was happily surprised. "When I was done, I really felt like it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be."
His side effects were very minimal—he feels a bit more depleted after his daily runs, and has cut back his mileage from 5-6 miles a day to 3. But particularly compared with his surgery, which took months to fully recover from, his radiation treatment was refreshingly uneventful. "Every time I went in for radiation, I had a big smile on my face," says Hemmah.
No longer on the demanding professional pool circuit, Hemmah has settled down to spend more time at home, in Harbor City, with his seven-year-old daughter and wife, who works at Torrance Memorial in the breast diagnostic center. You can still find Hemmah in pool halls, now teaching his craft to budding players.
TrueBeam doesn't necessarily provide an advantage for every cancer patient, and radiation oncologists must determine whether a patient is an appropriate candidate for the high precision therapy. But the technology is a powerful new tool in the fight against cancer and for helping patients like Hemmah get back in the game.