Most brain tumors are benign and usually stem from the meninges, from nerve sheaths, or from the pituitary gland. On the other hand, malignant brain tumors usually begin in the glial cells or astrocytes and are called astrocytoma or oligodendroglioma which vary in their malignancy, from grade I to grade IV.While brain tumors may be treated with surgical removal, radiation therapy or chemotherapy, a combination of these treatments is often necessary.When radiation is indicated, proton therapy can be used with fewer side effects.
Proton therapy uses positively charged atomic particles, traveling up to two-thirds the speed of light, to fight cancer. A cyclotron, or particle accelerator, creates protons from hydrogen molecules. The therapy is a high-tech alternative to X-ray radiation. Compared to X-ray beams, which pass through a patient, proton beams deliver targeted radiation to the tumor and then stop, resulting in no exit dose.
Hudson Brown, 5, of Grosse Pointe Farms, was diagnosed with a large brain tumor in January. Like the superpower of Transformers, his parents and doctors turned to a medical superpower – protons, to destroy his cancer cells in one of most advanced proton therapy centers in the nation at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.
Doctors ordered a CT and MRI. They found a large tumor on the back of Hudson’s brain. The following day, surgeons removed most of the tumor. A biopsy confirmed cancer – medulloblastoma. The next nine days Hudson was in a pediatric intensive care unit. His pediatric oncologist encouraged the Browns to seek proton therapy at Beaumont. After hearing about the benefits of proton therapy, the Browns contacted doctors at the center in Royal Oak.
Peter Chen, M.D., Hudson’s radiation oncologist at Beaumont explained, “For children, those most vulnerable and susceptible to the damage of traditional radiation, proton therapy offers greater precision to destroy cancer cells, sparing nearby healthy tissue from harmful radiation, with fewer side effects.”
High-tech therapy close to home
Megan said, “Hudson was the first cranial-spinal patient at Beaumont’s Proton Therapy Center. We feel so blessed. We did not have to travel to Chicago or Boston for this high-tech treatment. It’s only 30 minutes from home. We’re so lucky, if this happened one year ago, we’d have to relocate our family for six weeks.”
Like Bumblebee the Autobot, Hudson is small in stature, but his parents refer to his big heart. “He’s a sweet kid who thinks of others first. Hudson can be silly,” said his father, Patrick. “He likes to tell jokes and make other people laugh. His motivation is to get home and have fun with family and friends.”
Both of his parents are elementary school teachers in Grosse Pointe, although Megan took a leave of absence from her classroom after his diagnosis. “He is in pre-kindergarten. He loves his classes and teachers. One of his obsessions is Legos.”
Hudson is the middle child, with a younger sister, Cecelia, 2 and older sister, Emmy, 7.
Therapies: Proton, Maddie
Hudson received 30 proton treatments, Monday through Friday, for six weeks. Each day, they’d leave their home at 7:45 a.m. Admitted Megan, “Sometimes it was a struggle to get him to Beaumont each morning.” He was not allowed to eat breakfast before his treatments.
The first couple days of treatment were the most challenging. “Hudson didn’t know what to expect. But, each day got easier,” said Megan. “The nurses, doctors, technicians, staff, and volunteers were amazing. They did everything possible to make it easy for him – playing music he likes, letting him pick the colors in the treatment room and then, there’s Maddie the therapy dog.”
During the first week, Hudson was introduced to Maddie. They bonded. Later, in the anesthesia room, the dog climbed in bed with him. It was so calming for him.
After seeing how Hudson reacted to Maddie, her trainer, Carla Grava, brought the dog to every treatment.
Said Megan, “From the time we arrive, Maddie doesn’t leave his side. The dog is even present when he wakes up from his sleepy medicine.”
Hudson’s treatment plan includes proton therapy and chemotherapy. Dr. Chen explained, “Hudson has a tumor of the cerebellum, the back part of the brain, which affects his balance. It’s called medulloblastoma. These types of cancerous tumors have a tendency to spread through a cerebral spinal fluid, putting the entire spine at risk for the spread of cancer.”
By using proton beam technology, Dr. Chen and the team treated Hudson’s brain and spine. Because there is no exit dose with protons, no harmful radiation was delivered to his mouth, neck, chest, abdomen or pelvis – sparing vital organs such as the heart.
“It’s been an amazing gift to have the Proton Therapy Center so close. Everyone there has been positive, patient, upbeat and kind,” said Patrick. “We’ve also been incredibly blessed – community, neighbors, family, school staff – all have been so supportive.” Friends even created a Facebook page, “#HudsyStrong.”
Bumblebee and other surprises
With Hudson wrapping up his proton treatments the second week of April, Megan got to thinking how they should celebrate his milestone. With his love of Transformers movies and Bumblebee, she had an idea, “It just hit me. I should get a yellow Camaro, his Bumblebee, to drive him to his end-of-treatment celebration at the Proton Therapy Center.” People in her network gladly helped, turning her idea into reality. Two yellow Camaros, along with a caravan of Camaros from the Motor City Camaro Club, drove him and his family to Beaumont where he rang the end-of-proton-treatment bell.
And when Transformers actor Mark Wahlberg heard of Hudson’s celebration, he wanted to help and made sure he and his party guests enjoyed his favorite food: hamburgers, courtesy of Wahlburgers in Detroit. Along with the food, Mark created a short video message for Hudson and mentioned how he looks forward to meeting him.
While Hudson has completed his proton treatments at Beaumont, in May, he begins more chemotherapy.
Said Megan, “Our doctors are fairly confident with the proton and chemotherapies, Hudson should have a great prognosis. Their optimism keeps us going.”
Patrick said Hudson has an affinity for “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten, “The one day we drove to his proton treatment, he sang it five times. We talk about not giving up, and when you have fight in you, that means you’re strong – even when things are hard.”
The song’s lyrics are Hudson’s favorite, “Like a small boat on the ocean, sending big waves into motion … know I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.”