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Patient says he almost fell asleep during relaxing radiation treatment

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Far from frightening, the Halcyon system, used for delivering radiation therapy at Northwest Community Healthcare (NCH), is comfortable, quick and quiet, according to patient Joe Nitti, a 59-year-old salesman who completed 25 treatments.

"I was happy to hear that it was new technology,” Joe says, adding that the NCH staff administering the radiation were friendly, nice people.

Since the treatments were so fast, Joe was able to make 7:30 a.m. appointments and get to his office in Bensenville by 8:15 to start his work day. And he tolerated treatment with little to no side effects, according to Radiation Oncologist Stephen Nigh, M.D.

"It's an overall better experience for the patient," explains Dr. Nigh. "It has a very accurate set-up and delivery, and it’s 100 percent image-guided with a CT built into the machine."

Last year, after returning from a restful vacation in Aruba, Joe first noticed out-of-the-ordinary symptoms that led to a stage II cancer diagnosis. 

He went for an annual physical since he was overdue. Blood work done at another hospital led to a gallbladder disease diagnosis, but further investigation revealed an internal mass. Joe was fortunate that his physician friends recommended three top surgeons in the Chicagoland area.

Joe chose NCH Surgical Oncologist Malcolm Bilimoria, M.D., who discovered and then removed a tumor during a 3-hour pylorus preserving Whipple surgery.

"I was really impressed with how he explained everything and how he’s done so many Whipple surgeries in half the time,” Joe recalls. “He was an outstanding physician and I was very happy with his expertise.” 

Following surgery and four months of chemotherapy, Joe was ready for the final step in treatment: radiation therapy.

“The radiation further sterilizes the area where the tumor was to make sure there is no recurrence of cancer,” explains Dr. Bilimoria.

How it works

Precision is part of what makes the Halcyon system, a linear accelerator introduced at NCH in November, 2018, the most innovative technology on the market. The physician indicates the targeted area on the patient’s body and the machine is adjusted accordingly.

“You are in the exact same spot every time,” Joe explains. “My body was marked with a permanent marker, they lined up the spots and then I was in and out of treatment in a matter of minutes.”

With its open donut-like structure, the Halcyon system has a comfortable bed that moves slowly and quietly, without the feeling of claustrophobia.

“It was much easier than I thought, and I almost fell asleep getting the treatment,” Joe says. “There was nothing intimidating or painful about it. I didn’t feel anything.”

It may sound unusual, but Joe says he’s going to miss the various procedures that had become a regular part of his life.

“I’m so used to going to NCH,” he says. “You meet the people and you become friends with them. I went every day for six months for treatments.”

His last radiation session on January 22, 2019 ended with a celebratory “ringing of the bell” (a tradition at NCH) at which time he received a certificate of completion from staff and a hug from his radiation therapist. He’s confident that the Halcyon has killed any lingering microscopic cancer cells. 

“I’ve had two follow-up CT scans so far and they’re clean,” Joe says. “It has led me to be very optimistic.” 

If you would like to learn more about radiation oncology at NCH, visit nch.org/cancer or call 847-618-6560.

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