In January 2006, 3 year old Gabriel Rochefort was bombing down the ski slopes in Wyoming. His parents were thrilled that he had taken on this sport so young and with so much enthusiasm. Just a couple months later Gabriel was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. No illness, no warning. It was an ependymona – a malignant tumor that in young children often comes with a poor prognosis because they are typically located in places that make them difficult to remove.
Gabriel’s was in one of those places – against the brain stem. Neurosurgeon, Dr. Anthony Avellino at Children’s Hospital remarkably was able to remove all visible tumor without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue. Had it been just a couple years earlier, the risks in surgery would have been much greater. Every year the techniques and prognoses improve.
The next step was radiation and again Gabriel benefited greatly from new research. Until recently the full radiation dose was given through one beam giving the healthy tissue both on the way to the tumor site and exiting the entire dose as well. A new treatment, conformal radiation, divides the dose into several fragments. Radiology oncologist, Dr. James Douglas, worked meticulously with a computer program to formulate a prescription that would aim those fragments carefully to dodge primary centers in the brain whenever possible. This treatment option was especially important because although radiation is the treatment of choice for this type of cancer, there is concern about its effects on the brain especially with children 3 years of age and younger that are in a critical period of brain development. This treatment breakthrough minimized Gabriel’s risks to those late effects of radiation greatly.
Today, Gabriel is monitored every year with MRIs for regrowth of his tumor. He is a happy, vibrant boy, completely free of symptoms and side effects. His grateful parents know this outcome would not be possible without cancer treatment research.