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
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,"
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
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.