Six-year-old from Australia comes to UF Proton Therapy Center for brain tumor treatment.

 

An international adventure began with the sound of rain. When Audrey Anderson, 6, heard raindrops on the roof of her house in Australia, she would vomit. The intense reaction worried her mother, Sue Anderson.

“We couldn’t really figure out why she reacted like that and thought she’d grow out of it,” she said.

Audrey’s reaction to the rain was followed by a week of intense headaches, until one night when she sat up in bed and asked to go to the hospital.

Doctors discovered a tumor in Audrey’s brain, near the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. The tumor, called a craniopharyngioma, wasn’t cancerous, but could threaten Audrey’s eyesight and development if it grew. A limited surgery was performed, but doctors couldn’t eradicate the tumor completely, so Anderson contacted proton therapy centers for treatment information. The technology would allow radiation to be delivered with precise accuracy, sparing neighboring tissue and allowing doctors to treat the affected area without affecting most of Audrey’s brain.

She chose the UF Proton Therapy Center, one of four academic proton centers affiliated with a major U.S. pediatric hospital, because of its friendly phone service and how fast she was able to speak to Daniel Indelicato, M.D., an assistant professor in the UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville department of radiation oncology.

With his help, Audrey, Anderson, her husband, Wendel, and their two other daughters, Lilly, 10, and Eve, 3, were able to travel from Australia to Jacksonville. Prior to Audrey’s arrival, the proton center sent her a storybook, attached to a stuffed Gator mascot affectionately named “Proton Gator,” to help her prepare.

For six weeks, Audrey went through proton treatments. She lay perfectly still while the treatment was administered, usually a hard task for a child to accomplish.

“Audrey was so mature,” Indelicato said.

By Audrey’s side was her favorite person in the hospital, child life specialist Kim Ely, or as Audrey calls her, “Miss Kim.” Ely helped Audrey relax during her treatments and made the procedure feel like a game, Indelicato said.

Audrey’s treatments ended in January and the Andersons returned to Australia. Over the next year, Audrey’s tumor should continue to shrink until it’s no larger than the size of a thumbnail.

The family visited Disney World and the beach during their stay, but it is their time at the center they cherish the most.

“More happiness came out of the center than pain,” Anderson said. “The kids would talk about the people at the hospital before a character at Disney World.” — Mina Radman

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Summer 2012

From the director’s desk

They’re our patients’ bridge over troubled water … when you’re feeling weary and there’s darkness all around, they will comfort you.

Audrey’s journey across the world

Six-year-old from Australia comes to UF Proton Therapy Center for brain tumor treatment. “More happiness came out of the center than pain,” Anderson said.

Helping them live

Cancer is a scary diagnosis, by itself. Add in the need for appointments with surgeons, medical oncologists, genetics counselors and other specialists plus a slew of tests and the mind boggles. Nurse navigators guide patients through their cancer journeys.

Targeting tumors

Cancer that has spread from the site of an original tumor to other places in the body is often viewed as a death sentence. But if there are just a few of those secondary tumors, called metastases, some patients have a good chance of survival.

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