Proton Therapy and Barbecue: My Recipe for Beating Cancer and Being Myself

15 Apr 2019 News

Going through a cancer diagnosis and treatment is so difficult. Thanks to my care team suggesting proton therapy, I never felt like my life became consumed by my lung cancer diagnosis.

The word “barbecue” might make you think of ribs or pulled pork, Kansas City or Memphis-style. But when I hear the word, what I think of is passion and community.

For 10 years, I’ve participated in barbecue competitions throughout Washington state. In fact, I’m a registered member of the Pacific Northwest Barbecue Association (PNWBA), which organizes competitions from Canada to California. I started off as a competitor with my husband, but we quickly grew curious about what makes winning barbecue. It didn’t take long for us to discover how much fun it was to judge!

But when I was diagnosed with a recurrence of lung cancer in 2016, I was afraid that I’d have to give it all up. I can still recall the anxiety and fear I experienced when I learned my cancer had returned. During my first battle with lung cancer, my physicians were able to remove the tumor through surgery. A series of tests showed that surgery wasn’t an option this time around. My thoracic surgeon recommended a treatment I had never heard of: proton radiation therapy. This precise form of radiation targets the cancerous tumor and spares healthy tissues that surround it. For me, that meant protecting my heart, lungs, esophagus, and spinal cord from excess radiation exposure.

Thankfully, life never skipped a beat during treatment. Minimal side effects meant everyday life and my passion for brisket and the community I had become a part of would not need to take a backseat to cancer treatment. When I tell my story to others, many people have never heard of proton therapy and didn’t know that it can be a better alternative to traditional radiation.

Proton therapy isn’t right for every cancer patient but for certain types of cancer, it is an option worth considering. I’m certainly motivated by my positive experience to try to encourage cancer patients to learn about proton therapy and ask their doctors about it.

I felt little more than fatigue throughout my proton therapy treatment. Sessions lasted mere minutes– it took longer to change my clothes! I was at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Proton Therapy Center every day for six weeks, so I got to know the doctors, nurses and staff pretty well. They understood what was most important to me and helped me in ways I couldn’t have expected.

One Saturday, I had a proton treatment scheduled in the morning. When I realized that there was a barbecue competition happening nearby that same day, I signed up to judge. Balancing the two was no problem– my team made sure of that! I can proudly say that to date, I’ve judged 45 barbecue competitions, and judging has led to opportunities I could never have imagined.

One of my biggest feats was being named the 2017 PNWBA Judge of the Year along with my husband. It was an accomplishment that I’ll never forget and one that I was proud to celebrate nearly a year after beating cancer. And my husband and I have become master judges!

I doubt anyone would say that cancer treatment is a positive experience. Going through a cancer diagnosis and treatment is so difficult. I just feel grateful to my care team for suggesting proton therapy and then helping me live my best life even during treatment. I never felt like my life became consumed by my lung cancer diagnosis. Thankfully, I was able to remain Melba Fujiura: wife, friend, barbecue enthusiast– and now, cancer survivor.


Outcomes After Proton Therapy for Treatment of Pediatric High-Risk Neuroblastoma

15 Apr 2019 News


Patients with high-risk neuroblastoma (HR-NBL) require radiation to the primary tumor site and sites of persistent metastatic disease. Proton radiation therapy (PRT) may promote organ sparing, but long-term outcomes have not been studied.

Methods and Materials

Sequential patients with HR-NBL received PRT: 2160 cGy (relative biological effectiveness) to primary tumor bed and persistent metastatic sites, with 3600 cGy (relative biological effectiveness) to gross residual disease.


From September 2010 through September 2015, 45 patients with HR-NBL received PRT after systemic therapy, primary tumor resection, and high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell rescue. Median age was 46 months at the time of PRT (range, 10 months to 12 years); 23 patients (51%) were male. Primary tumors were adrenal in 40 (89%); 11 (24%) received boost. Ten metastatic sites in 8 patients were radiated. Double scattered proton beams were used for 19 (42%) patients, in combination with x-rays for 2 (5%). The remaining 26 (58%) received pencil beam scanning, available since January 2013. We observed 97% freedom from primary site recurrence at 3, 4, and 5 years. Overall survival rates were 89%, 80%, and 80% and disease-free survival rates were 77%, 70%, and 70%, at 3, 4, and 5 years, respectively. With median follow-up of 48.7 months from diagnosis (range, 11-90 months) for all patients (57.4 months for those alive), 37 (82%) patients are alive, and 32 (71%) are without evidence of disease. One patient experienced locoregional recurrence; the remaining 12 (27%) experienced relapse at distant, nonradiated sites. Acute toxicities during treatment were mainly grade 1. No patient has experienced World Health Organization grade 3 or 4 long-term renal or hepatic toxicity. Pencil beam scanning plans required less planning time and resources than double scattered plans.


We observe excellent outcomes in patients treated with PRT for HR-NBL from 2010 through 2015, with 82% of patients alive and 97% free of primary site recurrence. No patient has experienced long-term renal or liver toxicity. This treatment maximizes normal tissue preservation and is appropriate for this patient population.