59-year-old Airlie Beach local Lynne Norton was looking forward to seeing the world and making the most of her new life in Australia when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. Lynne and her husband had just moved to Australia from New Zealand for a change of lifestyle and purchased a yacht to travel across the world. After returning home from a four week European holiday, their plans were immediately put on hold when Lynne noticed changes to her nipple in her bathroom mirror that she hadn’t seen before. The following weeks were filled with a whirlwind of tests and scans, followed by a devastating diagnosis – Stage II breast cancer.
“The news wasn’t good and I didn’t expect it to be. It was pretty scary. Even though you know something is wrong, you don’t want to hear someone confirm it. The hardest moment in my life was calling my son and telling him the news.”
Lynne went on to receive a mastectomy, six months of chemotherapy in Mackay and 10 days of radiation therapy treatment in her home country of New Zealand, surrounded by her friends and family, before finishing treatment in April of 2017. It was then smooth sailing for Lynne and her husband, who celebrated finishing treatment in April of 2017 by returning to Europe and travelling down the French coast. Unfortunately, a breast reconstruction and subsequent side effects led to a grim discovery earlier this year.
“My stomach had swollen up within one week so that it looked like I was nine months pregnant. After CT and PET scans, they found my cancer had spread and I had three small tumours in my brain, buildup of fluid in my stomach and lungs, and cancer in my bones. I was in disbelief, especially since I had been getting checkups for so long.”
Lynne now needed to face the realities of treatment for advanced cancer – where the goal is focused on treating the cancer rather than a cure.
“You’re expecting to be told there’s a solution, not that your cancer is incurable. That was the scariest thing of all.”
With the focus on treating the cancer in her brain, Lynne was told she could access cutting-edge radiation therapy treatment using HyperArc™ technology at Icon Cancer Centre Greenslopes. Despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lynne was able to speak with her radiation oncologist over the phone who helped her understand the treatment process and travelled for treatment within a matter of weeks, receiving just three radiation therapy treatments delivered over four days in April of this year.
HyperArc™ utilises the features of the Varian machine that delivers radiation therapy (TrueBeam linear accelerator) to accurately deliver precise radiation therapy to multiple brain tumours with greater efficiency, speed, accuracy and patient comfort, while limiting doses to surrounding healthy brain tissue. Previously, people with secondary brain cancer would need to receive whole brain radiation therapy treatment. This can be uncomfortable for the patient, causing memory loss and increasing the intensity of side effects such as headaches, hair loss and nausea.
For Lynne, receiving advanced treatment was reassuring and comforting in her time of need.
“I don’t know what I would have done without this being available in Brisbane. I’m thankful every day that I had this option and didn’t have to consider traditional treatment that delivers radiation therapy to the whole brain and the terrible side effects that come with it. There are enough scary things you have to deal with when faced with an incurable diagnosis. This treatment was a pivotal moment for me and gave me hope to keep going.”
HyperArc can efficiently deliver treatment to multiple tumours in just a few minutes through one automated setup, compared with other systems which require multiple setup points and the need for treatments to stop and start, meaning patients are on the treatment bed for longer. Lynne says that receiving the treatment so quickly made everything “so much easier”.
“We had a great time in Brisbane as I had treatment in the morning and then the rest of the days free, and because I didn’t have any side effects my husband and I were able to spend each day taking long walks on the beach and enjoying each other’s company. It was such a relief to only be away from home for eight days.”