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A Striking Difference

At age 80, Lola Martinson still goes bowling twice a week at Pheasant Lanes in Ellendale, N.D. “I love it,” she says. “It’s good exercise and it’s something I’ve been doing for 51 years.”

She doesn’t mention it, but she’s also accomplished. Living-room shelves are packed full of trophies, including first place in the 2009 State Bowling Tournament.

But when she bowled the evening of Nov. 27, 2012, the strikes, spares and splits didn’t matter. Just being there was a victory. Hours earlier she’d undergone outpatient stereotactic radiosurgery for brain metastasis at Sanford Cancer Center in Sioux Falls.

“It went so well,” she says. “No side-effects whatsoever.”

A well-established program

First diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006, Lola has received many treatments over the years, including chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. In 2008, tests showed the return of breast cancer, but this time it had spread to her lungs and brain.

“That was really tough to hear,” she says. “Without my family at that appointment with me I don’t think I could’ve handled it.”

The diagnosis was even more serious when imaging scans showed the cancer in her brain was in an inoperable location. Her best option was radiosurgery.

“I told myself if this is something I need to do, I’m going to do it,” she says. “I was glad it was available in Sioux Falls and the doctors there had experience.”

Established in 2003 and the first in South Dakota, Sanford’s radiosurgery program has helped hundreds of patients from throughout the region. In all, more than 1,000 procedures have been performed.

An advanced form of radiation therapy, radiosurgery delivers high-energy X-rays to small, isolated tumors. Intense and precise, radiosurgery hits the target area hard while minimizing damage to surrounding tissue. This minimizes side effects and preserves quality of life.

Experience matters

A radiosurgery program requires state-of-the-art equipment including advanced imaging technology, computer software and a linear accelerator machine.

Dr. Steve McGraw, Sanford radiation oncologist, says the equipment is just the start, and the expertise brings real value to the procedure. “Even more important is the team behind the machine. What kind of experience and knowledge do they have? Best possible results require expertise,” he says.

Led by neurosurgeons and radiation oncologists, the team at Sanford includes physicists, dosimetrists, radiation therapists and more. In addition to administering the treatment, they take great care in planning a treatment that’s safe and effective, basing it on imaging scans of the patient’s tumor and surrounding tissue.

“To the patient, the radiosurgery delivery only takes a few minutes,” says Dr. McGraw. “But there’s extensive planning behind the scenes to make sure the right dose hits the right target. Radiosurgery is powerful. You need to get it right so the patient can truly benefit.”

Lola noticed the brevity of the treatment. “Thirty minutes and I was done. Other than having to lie still, there’s no discomfort,” she says. “After it was over I asked Dr. McGraw if I could bowl that night. He said yes, if you feel like it. I felt good and still do.”

Carefully selected patients

For Lola, radiosurgery to treat brain metastasis has helped not once, but twice. Her first radiosurgery at Sanford took place in 2008. When a checkup in 2012 showed another area of cancer, she underwent the procedure again.

“If another showed up, I wouldn’t hesitate,” says Lola. “This treatment is nothing to be afraid of as long as you have doctors who know what they’re doing.”

So far the greatest success in radiosurgery has been the treatment of small, isolated tumors in the lung, brain and liver. Non-cancerous conditions have been successfully treated as well, including trigeminal neuralgia. In the future, Dr. McGraw expects radiosurgery may be an option for prostate cancer.

“Careful selection of patients is always important in radiosurgery,” says Dr. McGraw. “If radiosurgery is right for you, that’s what we’ll do. But if another type of treatment would be better, we’ll let you know and together we’ll talk about the pros and cons. That’s where our multidisciplinary team comes into play. We have the depth and breadth of options and expertise to treat each person as an individual.”

Lola’s strategy

In fighting cancer, Lola has developed her own four-point strategy. “Faith in God, faith in the doctors, getting my checkups and staying busy,” she says.

Lola retired from her job with the county housing authority in 2011, and today stays busier than ever. She and husband Melvin love their time with family, including four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

“And gardening. I love gardening,” she says, describing her huge vegetable and flower garden, six retaining walls full of flowers and 120 hanging baskets. Last summer she even did her own tilling.

“I’m just so thankful for everything I’m able to do,” she says. “I’m going to keep enjoying life just as long as I can.”

Posted Date: April 2013