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In 2014, eleven years after she was first diagnosed with a brain tumor, Shannan experienced a recurrence that required oral chemotherapy and external beam radiation (EBRT).
Though her doctors had prepared her for the side effects of these traditional treatment options, as she stood in front of a mirror, combing her hair and watching large clumps of it fall out, she found herself shocked and alarmed.
“They told me at the very beginning there would be hair loss,” Shannan said. “But I had no idea how much.”
Losing her long, beautiful hair was devastating for Shannan. When her tumor recurred for the third time in 2019, she went to see her neurosurgeon, Dr. John Clough, expecting she’d be presented with the same limited options and have to endure the radiation-induced extreme fatigue and hair loss again.
Instead, Dr. Clough had promising news for Shannan—a new kind of Surgically Targeted Radiation Therapy (STaRT) called GammaTile Therapy. GammaTiles are very small, bioresorbable collagen tiles embedded with radiation seeds. The GammaTiles would be placed in the tumor cavity during the last five minutes of Shannan’s brain tumor removal surgery. With GammaTiles, radiation to eliminate remaining cancer cells and minimize the chance of the tumor returning would begin immediately upon placement and continue as she went about her daily life. The therapy is delivered from the inside out, sparing healthy brain tissue, and most often preventing adverse side effects, like hair loss.
In addition, unlike EBRT, with GammaTiles there is no need for ongoing, daily radiation treatments, and, because the tiles are bioresorbable, there is no need for additional surgery to remove them.
Shannan was the first person in Kansas—and one of the initial 11 in the United States—to receive this breakthrough therapy. “It gave me a lot of hope because, I’ll be honest, the external beam radiation experience was not pleasant for me. Just hearing that there was another type of treatment possible really gave me hope.”
Following her GammaTile Therapy treatment in 2019, Shannan did not experience harsh side effects, including the dreaded hair loss, and said it was “her best recovery yet.” Her most recent scan in February 2021 showed no evidence of tumor progression.
Because of her successful treatment, and her desire to help others who are going through similar, challenging journeys, Shannan became a GammaTile Patient Navigator. Receiving a brain tumor diagnosis, whether it’s the first or third time, can be overwhelming. The GammaTile Patient Navigator Program is there to connect GammaTile Therapy patients with potential patients or caregivers who are seeking more information or support. Sharing her story allows Shannan to help others get a head STaRT in their fight against their brain tumor and maintain quality of life in the process.