Learning you have stage 4 cancer is gut-wrenching.
In the not-so-distant past, there was little doctors could do, but that has changed.
Now, more people with advanced cancer are surviving and thriving.
Stage 4 cancer means the disease has spread to other parts of the body.
In lung cancer, it’s next stop is often the brain.
But even then, with new treatments, there is reason to hope.
By the time doctors discovered Murray Bryant’s lung cancer, it was widespread.
“I was starting to lose my balance and stumbling,” said Bryant, a retired Marine.
Tumors put pressure on his brain. Despite the advanced stage, his radiation oncologist Arie Dosoretz had a plan of attack.
“It’s certainly still a daunting challenge when we have a patient who has stage four disease, but we now have lots of patients living a very long time, some who are alive many years after the diagnosis,” said Dosoretz, who works at Advocate Radiation Oncology.
Dosoretz fired precise beams of stereostatic radiation directly at the cancer inside Bryant’s head.
“We create a 3D reconstruction, using a CAT scan or in conjunction with MRI, and we map out the brain. And you can look, slice by slice, millimeter by millimeter, and we created, sort of, a 3D model on the computer,” Dosoretz said. “Then we essentially program our machines, which are called linear accelerators, to sort of rotate around the patient and sort of carve the dose to a very small area.”
Unlike older delivery methods, the radiation is high-dose and pinpoint, targeting the cancer with little collateral damage.
“We’ve been able to progressively give a higher dose to those abnormalities while limiting the dose to the areas around it,” Dosoretz said.
With fewer than 10 sessions, the stereotactic radiation wipes out the brain tumors. Immunotherapy drugs keep the lung cancer from spreading.
Bryant remembers an initial prognosis that he had weeks to a few months to live.
“That was their prognosis, 14 months ago,” Bryant said.
More than a year later, Bryant feels great and inspired. And now, he is focusing on art, which is like therapy for him.
“I get choked up thinking about it. Oh, All the angels surrounding me, the nurses, and doctors,” Bryant said. “It was like their whole life had been dedicated to see me and take care of me.”
Bryant’s story is becoming more common. With advanced cancer, patients are living longer and stronger.
“And now you can keep those people around for important life events and to create beautiful things like the art that he makes,” Dosoretz said.