Beaumont Hospital tops off Proton Therapy Center

Steel beam signed by cancer patient, survivor lifted into place

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published October 7, 2015

 Birmingham resident Jonathan Steinberg attends the Sept. 29 Beaumont Hospital topping-off ceremony at the site of the future Proton Therapy Center in Royal Oak. Through tears, the brain cancer survivor told the story of how proton therapy saved his life after he was given one year to live 32 years ago.

Birmingham resident Jonathan Steinberg attends the Sept. 29 Beaumont Hospital topping-off ceremony at the site of the future Proton Therapy Center in Royal Oak. Through tears, the brain cancer survivor told the story of how proton therapy saved his life after he was given one year to live 32 years ago.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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ROYAL OAK — When Jonathan Steinberg began proton therapy 32 years ago, he had to move to Boston and face protesters against the then-experimental treatment in an effort to save his life.

“It wasn’t easy being in a strange town and being told that you had less than a year to live,” he said.

The Birmingham resident eventually brought his fight for proton therapy to Michigan, championing the cause until Gov. Jennifer Granholm vetoed restrictions blocking who could provide the treatment in 2008.

“Proton beam therapy was my only hope to survive, as they could deliver a large dose of radiation into the middle of my brain without damaging it and killing me,” Steinberg said.

The brain cancer survivor spoke Sept. 29 at a topping-off ceremony celebrating Beaumont Hospital’s future $40 million Proton Therapy Center at the Royal Oak campus. Construction on the center began in February.

Beaumont officials said that when completed, the two-story proton therapy building will be 25,200 square feet, including a basement. The first floor will house the Proton Therapy Center. The 10,000-square-foot space will include a cyclotron that produces the proton beams, and a single-room treatment area.

The 8,000-square-foot second floor will be the future home of the Beaumont Children’s Hospital’s pediatric oncology and hematology program.

“The idea of bringing this lifesaving technology to our community was conceived really before 2008,” said Shane Cerone, president of Beaumont Hospital Royal Oak.

Cerone said that when the Proton Therapy Center opens for treatment in the spring of 2017, Beaumont will join a group of only 50 such centers in the world.

Dr. Craig Stevens, chairman of radiation oncology for Beaumont Hospital Grosse Pointe, Royal Oak and Troy, said proton therapy is an evolving science allowing very precise treatment to hit a single tumor by shrinking it with protons accelerated to near the speed of light. He said the protons enter the patient and stop at an energy-dependent depth before all of the energy is deposited within a few millimeters of the tumor until it is killed.

Stevens said unlike X-Rays that go all the way through the patient, the proton therapy goes in, but does not come out and instead stops where the cancer is, allowing physicians to basically “paint dose” the tumor while missing almost all of the adjacent structures.

“So we should be able to get the same outcomes with much less side effects,” he said. “And with the modern technology that we have here, we’ll have daily imaging built into the therapy machine, so with daily imaging, we’ll be able to follow the patient’s progress and be able to tailor our treatments so that as the tumor shrinks, our targets can shrink too, thereby allowing us to spare even more normal tissue.”

Stevens said the treatment will be most beneficial for those with brain, head, neck, lung and pediatric cancers, along with patients who didn’t respond to chemotherapy or standard radiation. He hopes all patients will be eligible for trial.

“I think it is going to have the most role for pediatric cancers because, again, they have the longest chance to have late complications,” he said. “And so this will reduce the complications and will also reduce the cost of care for those patients over their lifetimes because they will have fewer side effects, and so in the long run, it will be cheaper for the overall health system because there will be fewer late complications to have to deal with.”

Chippewa Valley High School student Eugene Williams, 15, recently completed proton therapy for nasal cavity cancer and said that during treatment, he was able to maintain his senses of smell and taste and avoided a feeding tube.

“I couldn’t eat well because of the throat, but they said if I would have had traditional radiation, I would have lost all of my taste and wouldn’t have been able to eat as well and would have had to have a tube,” he said. “But I didn’t have to have a tube, so I would say it went pretty well.”

His mother, Eugenia Williams, drove him to Philadelphia for treatment, as there are no single-room proton cancer treatment centers in Michigan.

She would drive back on weekends to give her son a sense of normalcy by seeing friends and family. She is proud to support the first single-room proton cancer center treatment center in Michigan.

“I’m praying we will never have to use it again, but for other children and anyone else that will be able to use it and spare other vital organs, it is literally a lifesaver,” she said.

Eugene Williams, his mother and his grandmother, Barbara Webb, signed the final steel beam for the treatment center before it was lifted into place on the south side of the medical complex near the Rose Cancer Treatment Center.

Topping-off ceremonies are a tradition in the construction trades to celebrate the final beam being put into place at the structure’s highest point. Placement of a flag or small tree often accompanies the beam.

Local dignitaries, including Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Royal Oak Mayor Jim Ellison, attended the event.

“The community is so fortunate to have this kind of medical facility so close,” Ellison said. “It’s one of the best in the country, and it’s our neighborhood hospital.”

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