Kathleen Norris’ Story

“This Treatment is so Advanced”: Great-Grandmother is Grateful for Proton Therapy

When Kathleen Norris was diagnosed with lung cancer in March, she went through several waves of emotion. First came extreme shock. She had gone to her local urgent care center thinking she might have bronchitis and was floored when an X-ray found a large mass on her left lung.

Next came fear, when she learned doctors could not operate to remove it. “I am a former smoker, and because of my severe emphysema, I was not a candidate for any kind of surgery to remove the tumor from my lung,” Kathleen explains.

But the 72-year-old says, amazingly, the next emotion she felt was relief. Because after her local hospital transferred her to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital where she was told she was a great candidate for proton therapy.

This Southern Maryland mother of three, grandmother of eight, and great-grandmother of two—with one more on the way—became the 100th patient to receive this next generation of radiation therapy at MedStar Georgetown’s Proton Therapy Center.

Proton therapy is a highly advanced and effective form of radiation therapy that can treat tumors anywhere in the body, in adults and children. More precise than traditional radiation treatments, proton therapy targets tumors with high-dose radiation and molds to the tumor’s exact size and shape, leaving no exit dose. This pinpoint accuracy reduces damage to surrounding healthy tissue and also reduces patient exposure to radiation by up to 50 percent while still delivering curative doses of radiation.

“It is common for patients with lung cancer to also have lung problems or dysfunction,” Dr. Brian Collins, medical director of the Department of Radiation Medicine, explains. “With proton therapy, Kathleen’s lungs, as well as her heart, were protected from excess radiation. This treatment allows us to effectively and reliably eradicate tumors safely, while decreasing side effects and risks.”  

Kathleen with her husband and three daughters.MedStar Georgetown is the only facility in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area to offer proton therapy with  HYPERSCAN™.

Kathleen received proton therapy five days a week for six weeks along with chemotherapy once a week. The experience was far superior to what her granddaughter went through when she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of two. That was a decade ago.

“I wish my granddaughter could have had this treatment 10 years ago,” she says.

“I keep thinking, what if my doctor had not made a few calls to get me to MedStar Georgetown? What would have happened then?” Kathleen says. “I’m just so relieved that I did get here. The goal now is to survive this. I have had a good life and hopefully it will continue for a long time.”

Kathleen says she is grateful for all the support she has had from friends and family. She is now very hopeful as she looks to the future.