WAILUKU - As she endured another bout of radiation for breast cancer on Monday, Daryl Lynn Tavares could see bright pictures of a blue sky, white clouds and palm fronds - all of which took her mind off her treatment.
While soothed by the scenery, most importantly Tavares was getting a more-effective dose of radiation from the Pacific Cancer Institute's new, $3 million TrueBeam STx machine. There was some fine-tuning of the equipment before the Kihei resident became the first patient to be treated on Maui with the state-of-the-art, more precise radiation equipment, which is the only one of its kind in the state.
The institute, founded in 1994 by Dr. Bobby Baker at Maui Memorial Medical Center, officially unveiled and put to use its $3 million TrueBeam STx machine from Varian Medical Systems. The new equipment can treat patients "significantly faster" than what has been used at the hospital, Baker said.
Radiation oncologist Dr. Diane Tsai (left) shows off the new TrueBeam STx machine for treating cancer patients such as Daryl Lynn Tavares. The machine can deliver doses of radiation to kill cancerous tissue, even if tumors are in moving parts of the body, while leaving healthy tissue unscathed.
The Maui News / BRIAN PERRY photo
The machine is in a newly constructed vault with 8-foot-thick walls needed to keep radiation in the treatment room. The room is patient friendly, with calming elements like the nature scenes on the ceiling, a window image of a beach shoreline and Japanese-style screen sliding doors to hide medical supplies. A private blessing for the machine was held Monday morning. A public open house for the machine and the center's renovations will be held Jan. 12.
The TrueBeam STx can deliver radiation treatments 2.4 to 4 times faster with a dose delivery rate of up to 2,400 monitor units per minute, double the cancer-killing output of most other radiosurgery systems, according to a news release.
The machine is so precise that it can also be used to treat small brain tumors in patients who previously have needed to fly to Oahu for treatment, Baker said. The machine can pinpoint and treat small lung tumors, even though the organ is moving as the patient breathes, he added.
"It's been so long in coming," Baker said as he waited in a hallway, as Tavares received her treatment from the new machine. "When it finally happens, it's a huge sign of relief."
Baker said he had been preparing to begin treatment with the new machine for five years. Baker and his staff, including a physicist, have been working 12-hour days recently to prepare specific information to be used in the new machine for each of the patients who will undergo radiation on the machine, he said.
Patients who have been receiving radiation from the longtime equipment at the center will all be transitioned to the new machine eventually, he said.
There were several other patients ready to follow Tavares to receive treatment from the new equipment on Monday afternoon.
"It was great," said a smiling, Tavares, after her treatment.
The only complaint was that her arm was getting "a little numb" from being in a single, unaccustomed position, she said, but overall, Tavares, a mother of two adult children, said her treatment went well. She has been battling breast cancer since April.
The 46-year-old added that she wasn't intimidated by the large machinery that can move in different angles and has a movable bed that can be turned in different directions and go up and down so the machine can deliver the treatment more accurately.
The machine looks like a faucet, with the patient bed able to go under the "spout" of the machine while there are two movable panels on its left and right side. The "spout" also moves.
Like her other radiation treatments on an older machine next door in the institute, Tavares said she "didn't feel anything" while undergoing the treatment.
Tavares said she "felt honored" to be asked by her doctor to be the first one to use the machine.
Radiation oncologist Dr. Diane Tsai said Tavares is "very brave" and "fearless."
Tsai described the machine and its functions as "unrivaled in its speed and accuracy and precision," and she said her patients have been very positive about it.
In the institute's news release, Tsai said that the machine can "deliver accurate, image-guided treatments very quickly. At the same time, we can monitor and compensate for tumor motion, and that further increases treatment accuracy."
The machine also can generate three-dimensional images of the tumor and surrounding anatomy 60 percent faster than was possible with previous Varian imaging technology, a release said. In addition, images can be generated using 25 percent less X-ray dose. The images are used to fine-tune a patient's position prior to and during the treatment process.
Baker said he was contemplating different life and business decisions including retirement when he decided to bring in the new machine.
"I really wanted this to be my swan song to Maui," he said.
Baker said a lot of times folks on Maui usually see state-of-the-art medical advances and equipment on Oahu, but with this machine he wanted to say that "Maui is no ka oi."
Although there may be plans to bring in a similar machine to Oahu and the Big Island in the near future, Baker said that Maui will probably be the only one to have the TrueBeam STx, which has the highest degree of technology embedded in it.
"This is the flagship equipment in the world," he said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.