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Thirteen years ago, Patrick was diagnosed with lymphoma. After making a full recovery, he was very committed to exercising. But over the last three years he had been experiencing lots of back pain. Patrick associated the pain with the abundance of exercise and didn’t think much of it.

The pain intensified and Patrick went to see a traumatologist. He ordered an MRI, and when they found a very large mass, he panicked, thinking the lymphoma had recurred. He went back to see his oncologist and more tests (biopsy and positron emission tomography) were ordered to determine the type of lymphoma. The oncologist said the good news was that there were no metastases but that this was a chordoma - a type of tumor that grows very slowly. The bad news was that the chordoma was very large and situated at a complex location which meant fewer options for treatment.

Because chordoma was not his expertise, the oncologist referred Patrick to a well-known neurosurgeon, thinking that surgery was his only option. Patrick felt nervous and downhearted. In the following weeks Patrick and his family researched and spoke to other specialists to get other perspectives. However, most agreed that surgery was the only option. The neurosurgeon reviewed the case and said he couldn’t operate. His conclusion was that the tumor was just too big, and referred him to a spine tumor surgeon, and contacted him to have Patrick’s case reviewed.

Meanwhile, Patrick’s case was still being discussed during tumor board meetings at the first hospital. They thought that proton therapy could be a good option for Patrick and referred him to the proton center. In the following weeks Patrick felt lost, not having options, no direction to go in, just waiting. And then, all on the same day, he was confronted with two options. The spine tumor surgeon reached out to inform him, he could have the surgery. It will be risky and there might be unwanted consequences, but it could be done. At the same time, the proton center concluded that proton therapy could really make a difference and notified him they were confident, based on scientific evidence, that they could treat him. All of the sudden, Patrick had a decision to make.

For various reasons Patrick ultimately chose proton therapy. Patrick was extremely emotional, from having no options and no hope, to now feeling cautiously optimistic. Patrick and his wife went to stay at an apartment near the proton center, where he received a total of 37 sessions. He had no pain, no burns and was able to walk back and forth to the center. Patrick is still a bit skeptical if this treatment will work. But, after finishing the proton therapy, he no longer has back pain and he is back to sports, back to a ‘normal’ life. After three months the tumor has already shrunk and he will get an MRI every four months for the next three years. He is now optimistic, but still in waiting mode. He doesn’t know what the future brings, but every hour, every day, every week that he can live like this, he considers a gift.

Photo: Ronda, Spain (Patrick's birthplace).

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