“The first thing that happens is your whole marriage flashes in front of your eyes and you think, ‘Oh, this is how it’s going to end.’” That was Maria Erickson’s reaction in 2018 when she learned that her husband, Chad, had been diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most common – and deadliest – form of brain cancer in adults.

The path to that diagnosis was a little circuitous. During the holidays in 2017, the Erickson’s daughter-in-law noticed that normally upbeat Chad seemed a little sluggish. Early the next year, he got lost a couple of times during what should have been a routine trip to their son’s house. “One morning, he woke up and started groping the wall for the doorknob and asked me where I had put the door,” said Maria. “I took him straight to the ER because I thought he’d had a stroke. They said no, there appears to be something in his brain.”

First surgery
Chad was transferred to University of Minnesota Medical Center and underwent surgery to remove the tumor followed by radiation and chemotherapy. In 2019, a follow-up MRI showed that the tumor had recurred around the periphery of the first surgery, which is typical of glioblastoma. Chad and Maria had attended a session hosted by the University of Minnesota Foundation on April 24, 2019, during which Neurosurgery Department Head Clark C. Chen, MD, PhD, explained a new brain cancer therapy known as GammaTile™. The session introduced them to Chen and laid the foundation for Chad’s next treatment.

GammaTile is a small, bioresorbable collagen tile impregnated with radiation sources. According to the manufacturer, it is, “a radiation treatment specifically designed for use inside the brain … It can eliminate the need for traditional repeat radiation treatments and associated hospital or clinic visits, so patients can focus on what matters most — healing.” Chen added that, “GammaTile’s potent radiation is extremely targeted, extending just 5-8 millimeters beyond the surgical site.”

Good candidate
Chad was a good candidate for this therapy. “I was already convinced that it sounded like it could be successful,” he said. “After discussing it with Maria, I thought there was no question about doing it.” Chad would otherwise have had to undergo another round of chemotherapy to eradicate any microscopic tumor cells around the surgical area.

In August of 2019, Chen resected the tumor and then partnered with radiation oncologist Kathryn Dusenbery, MD, to place the GammaTile in Chad’s brain. “A radiation oncologist must be present during the surgery to handle the radioactive tiles safely,” said Chen. “The operating room staff must be trained in additional safety protocols and the therapy needs to be tailored to the patient’s tumor and oncologic needs.”

Best place
That is what makes the U of M the best place to get this kind of therapy. “GammaTile isn’t offered at many institutions because it requires a collaboration among neurosurgery, neuro-oncology, neuro-pathology, neuro-radiology, and radiation oncology,” said Chen. “This multidisciplinary team meets weekly to discuss patients who can best benefit from this therapy. As a result, our patients don’t just benefit from one doctor but from the collaborative wisdom of all of us.”

A resident of Lindstrom, MN, Chad recently turned 70 and is CEO of two family-owned businesses. An active man, he was understandably anxious to recover from this procedure. While there have been a few speed bumps along the way, his recovery has gone well. Maria educated herself on the possible ramifications of Chad’s condition and advocates strongly for him when they do encounter a speed bump. “It is truly inspiring to see how Chad and Maria are navigating the challenges associated with the glioblastoma diagnosis with grace, love, and charity,” said Chen.

Bringing hope
It’s been a little more than a year since Chad’s second procedure and he continues to beat the odds. In addition to managing his own recovery, he has volunteered to help other patients with brain cancer, noting, “I feel it’s God’s work to help people with a bleak prospect, bringing hope to those who are terrified.”

Meet Chad, Maria and Dr. Chen in this video about GammaTile.