Innovative Proton Radiation Treatment Keeps Metuchen Woman Happily Active   

Innovative Proton Radiation Treatment Keeps Metuchen Woman Happily Active

Cathy Miro

Cathy Miro is a self-described “mover and goer” who hates sitting still. So when the Metuchen, New Jersey, resident learned she would need radiation following surgery for breast cancer in mid-2021, Cathy was determined to seek treatment that wouldn’t slow her down even while destroying remaining cancer cells.

Her proactive approach led the 63-year-old manicurist to pursue proton therapy, an advanced form of radiation offered through Hackensack Meridian Health, thanks to a partnership with ProCure Proton Therapy Center in Somerset, New Jersey.

Proton therapy delivers highly precise radiation beams directly to malignant cells and then stops—meaning less radiation exposure to healthy tissues nearby and potentially fewer side effects. With Cathy’s heart and lungs near the tumor site, reducing radiation exposure to these key organs is a high priority, says Nicholas DeNunzio, M.D., Ph.D., radiation oncologist and director of proton therapy at John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center.

“I wanted to be very involved in my treatment,” says Cathy, the mother of a grown daughter. “I was already a reader, but I read and researched until my eyes bled. Something had to be better than traditional radiation and not destroy healthy tissue to get to the bad cells.”

Targeted Beams  

A routine mammogram revealed two tumors in Cathy’s right breast in May 2021, requiring lumpectomy surgery. But cancerous cells were also detected in two of five nearby lymph nodes removed during the procedure, prompting doctors to recommend follow-up radiation.

Cathy’s proactive research led her to Dr. DeNunzio, who agreed that proton therapy seemed the best fit. Its ultra-precise technology makes it ideal for tackling complex cases, particularly tumors in vulnerable areas such as the brain, neck, chest and spine. Increasingly tapped in recent years, proton therapy is also optimal for children with cancer, since their bodies are still developing. 

Traditional X-ray radiation also works by destroying malignant cells, but its beams can extend beyond the tumor site. “Because proton therapy has virtually no exit dose, we can angle the beams differently to further diminish the amount of healthy tissue exposed to radiation,” Dr. DeNunzio explains. “In Cathy’s case, we wanted to target all her lymph nodes and knew proton therapy could do that. For many reasons, we felt she would benefit more from using protons as opposed to traditional—but still highly technologically advanced—X-ray-based radiation.”

Confident and Cancer-free

Cathy felt especially confident about proton therapy after Dr. DeNunzio mapped out exactly how the radiation would work in the targeted area.

“He actually brought up my plan on the computer and showed me the rays and how they worked, explaining it in ways I could understand,” she recalls. “Because of that, I could breathe better. I didn’t have to be afraid.”

As she’d hoped, Cathy experienced manageable side effects and continued to work the entire time. “She’s a high-energy person who is proactive in how she approaches her daily life,” Dr. DeNunzio says. “She did great.”

Hackensack Meridian Health’s partnership with ProCure sets the health network apart by offering patients a comprehensive suite of radiotherapy options, including proton therapy, throughout New Jersey so patients can receive treatment care close to home.

“We’re all housed within the same network and have access to the same information, which really facilitates more fluid communication,” Dr. DeNunzio says. “It gives us a lot of flexibility and opportunities to formulate the optimal solution to any patient’s situation.”

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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