Local Woman Enjoying Life Cancer-Free Thanks to Proton Therapy

Karen Gomez is a healthy retiree in her early 70s. She rarely gets sick and has never had a medical crisis, so she was shocked to receive a diagnosis of neck and throat cancer in early 2023.

“I had cancer in my left tonsil, which was strange because I had my tonsils removed at age 20,” Gomez says. “The ENT [ear, nose and throat specialist] said the remaining tissue spread into my two lymph nodes, seemingly overnight.”

Gomez lives in the mountains of North Georgia. She had seen her doctor for a sore throat, and further testing revealed the cancer diagnosis. One of her options was a complex surgery. She also knew about proton therapy through a friend, so she researched her options. Gomez was thrilled to discover Thompson Proton Center in Knoxville, where her daughter and son-in-law live. She was able to stay with her family during her seven weeks of treatment.

Karen Gomez smiles for a photo.

About Proton Therapy

Proton therapy has unique properties that focus a pencil-like radiation beam on the tumor area and stop the beam where the cancer is located, instead of travelling beyond the target site. This prevents excess radiation exposure to the normal tissue and surrounding areas.

Each day, five days a week, Gomez came to the proton center and was positioned on a table. The technicians created a mask for her to wear that allowed the precise beam of radiation to hit its mark.

Thompson Proton Center’s Team Approach to Excellence

Her physician was Ryan Grover, MD, radiation oncologist and medical director at Thompson Proton Center. “At Thompson Proton Center, there are staff members who see the patients, but there’s also a whole team working behind the scenes,” Dr. Grover explains. “Most importantly, they are all top-notch. They regard patient safety as their highest priority, double-check everything, and implement multiple layers of checks and balances. Not only are the staff good at their jobs, they are genuinely nice people. It makes the Thompson Proton Center a great place to be, whether you’re a patient or an employee.”

One of Gomez’s radiation therapists, Rebecca, says, “Facing any cancer diagnosis is devastating. While going through some of the toughest times, it’s important for patients to have interactions with staff who are enthusiastic, motivated, and responsive. These are some of the many great characteristics patients receive from teams here at Thompson Proton Center!”

The Patient’s Experience – Compassion and Support Make a Difference

“They were so good with me, I don’t think I would have made it without them,” Gomez says about the care team at TPC. “Dr. Grover was great. He was very professional and careful with me. The radiation technicians who helped me, they were just awesome. One of them hugged me when I was feeling weak, and she encouraged me. The two guys helping me onto the table also helped me fix my long hair so it was out of the way. It was just incredible.”

Her side effects included impact to the saliva glands and taste buds, but she did not have to have a feeding tube or undergo chemotherapy or surgery.

Rebecca says, “Karen was determined. She had her mind set on finishing treatments and did not let anything get in the way. She focused on her health and wellness, and I think that contributed greatly to her success.”

Gomez says she’s thankful to the staff and experts at Thompson Proton Center for the care she received. “There was not one person who was not kind, smiling, helpful and nice,” she says. “I couldn’t ask for better people than that whole place.”

For more information about proton therapy and Thompson Proton Center, call our care team at 865-331-8199 or visit ThompsonProtonCenter.com.

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