• Patient with medical team

TrueBeam offers Pinpoint Precision for Patient with Vocal Cord Cancer

If you’ve ever wondered how the two massive white antennas found their way to the top of the former Sears Tower in Chicago, look no further than the South Suburbs of Chicago.

Eighty-five-year-old Donald Williams of South Holland helped put them there. He also rode the antennas to the top of the John Hancock building and helped set the Picasso in place in Chicago’s iconic Daley Plaza.

The fearless Donald, a retired structural ironworker, has countless stories to share about his colorful life as an ironworker, artist, husband, father and grandfather. More recently, he has another story to tell: this one about his fight with cancer of the vocal cords. And like his other tales, Donald’s story is marked by courage, tenacity and his everpresent sense of humor.

“I was getting hoarse a lot,” he remembers. “Eventually, I lost my voice entirely. A lot of people were grateful for that.” But all kidding aside, when Donald, a former smoker, described his symptoms to his primary care physician Lokesh Chandra, M.D., he was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist on staff at Ingalls Memorial Hospital. A scope procedure confirmed the presence of a growth, so Donald was sent to radiation oncologist Sulochana Yalavarthi, M.D., who diagnosed him with vocal cord cancer and recommended radiation therapy at Ingalls.

Symptoms of vocal chord cancer, which affects 10,000 Americans each year, include a sore throat, a sensation of something stuck in the throat, voice changes, trouble breathing, trouble swallowing with associated weight loss, and the appearance of one or more lumps in the neck.

“Vocal cord cancer is very closely linked with a history of smoking,” Dr. Yalavarthi explained. Treatment varies depending on the location and size of the tumor but often includes surgery and radiation therapy.

In Donald’s case, Dr. Yalavarthi recommended a very special type of radiation therapy using the highly advanced TrueBeam radiation therapy system at Ingalls.

The TrueBeam linear accelerator aims a more precise, higher-dose beam of radiation that is shaped to the cancerous tumor.

The sophisticated system delivers radiation treatment in a fraction of the time of traditional radiation therapy while protecting surrounding healthy tissue. That’s especially important when treating tiny structures like the vocal cords. What’s more, the enhanced precision gives physicians added confidence when they’re working adjacent to critical structures such as the spinal cord or base of the skull, and the fast delivery rate is particularly good for patients requiring high-dose treatments.

“A procedure that once took an hour can be done in a fraction of the time,” she added. “Patients are more comfortable, less tired, and it’s easier to maintain the right position to get the dose where it’s needed.”

A grateful Donald received twice-daily radiation treatments on his vocal chords for a month and a half, and five stereotactic body radiation treatments on a nodule in his right lung for two weeks. Today, he’s cancer free.

In fact, he was so delighted with the care and treatment he received at Ingalls that he donated an original bronze sculpture he named “Why” to the Radiation Therapy Center, where it proudly sits in the waiting room.

“I love those people there,” he adds. “They did a magnificent job for me. Besides, they’re beautiful young ladies, and that might have had something to do with it too.”

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Progress Magazine