Krysti and the Gamma Knife

January 2019 Update

Krysti was diagnosed in March 2005 with stage 4 bilateral IBC and lived more than 10 years, thanks in part to her participation in multiple clinical trials. Nicknamed “Dr. K,” she was dedicated to research and helping many others diagnosed with breast cancer. Krysti passed away in July 2015. She is greatly missed for her wonderful smile and sense of humor. [Krysti’s Gamma Knife treatment was administered at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center]

What is Gamma Knife? 

From Mayo Clinic: “Gamma Knife radiosurgery is a type of radiation therapy used to treat tumors, vascular malformations and other abnormalities in the brain. Gamma Knife radiosurgery, like other forms of stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS), is not surgery in the traditional sense because there is no incision. Instead, Gamma Knife radiosurgery uses specialized equipment to focus about 200 tiny beams of radiation on a tumor or other target with submillimeter accuracy. Although each beam has very little effect on the brain tissue it passes through, a strong dose of radiation is delivered to the place where all the beams meet.”

Krysti commented: “I wish I had a photo of the machine itself, darn it! But a one or two time zap where you are in the machine for less than a half hour, and all you do is smell something like burnt crayons is amazing. Zapping the tumor DNA and killing it from the inside out is amazing too. Surprisingly, this is one of the easier things I’ve been through even though the photos, and the idea of screws in your skull, probably doesn’t sound so easy!”

Krysti after signing consent forms
First Step. After signing consent forms – awaiting Gamma to start – get this tumor gone!
Krysti and the Halo
Krysti and the Halo. The first thing the doc does is inject your head/scalp with lidocaine to numb it. It pinches a bit, but this about the most I felt. Then they screw in the halo frame with 4 screws – two in the front on your forehead and two in the back (no shaving of hair even). The frame feels heavy. You are then taken to MRI with the frame on to get exact tumor photos for precision stereotactic placement of the beam. Next it’s a “hurry up and wait” as the doctor and the computer are creating a treatment plan.
Krysti and the Space Helmet
Krysti and the Space Helmet. The clear helmet gives you a space explorer look! It attaches to the frame and you wear it into the machine where the huge heavy beam directors (probably not the correct verbiage) are placed over it. As I mentioned, you smell something like burnt crayons while in the machine. My location (at IU Simon) let me bring my own CD to listen to while in the Gamma Knife machine.
Krysti Immediately Post Treatment
Krysti Immediately Post Treatment. After Gamma they unscrew the frame from your head. There was just a bit of blood, but some pressure from the doc and nurse stopped that. I had to wear the gauze for a few hours and had band-aids on my forehead. I couldn’t wash my hair for a couple days, and healed in about a week or ten days.
Krysti Post Treatment
Krysti Post Treatment. Felt good enough both times to meet a bunch of the family at a Mexican restaurant and have a beer. Although the gauze looks intimidating, I felt fine!
Smiling behind the halo.
Editor’s note: our favorite photo shows Krysti talking on her cell phone while waiting for treatment. Can you see that smile behind the halo?