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Centered in the photo, Sherri Kalmer smiles while sitting on a lawn. She is blonde and white, and she wears a black sleeveless top and blue jeans.
Centered in the photo, Sherri Kalmer smiles while sitting on a lawn. She is blonde and white, and she wears a black sleeveless top and blue jeans.

Living With a Brain Tumor

How Proton Therapy Helped Sherri Reclaim Her Life

In 2010, Sherri Kalmer of Sycamore, Illinois, had a headache. It was not an unusual occurrence for her; headaches are common in her family, so she did not think much of it.

But the headache persisted for multiple days, and Sherri eventually sought care at a nearby drop-in clinic. Medication prescribed by the team at the clinic helped her headache subside, but the team also insisted Sherri make a follow-up appointment with a general practitioner to see if the headaches were something to be concerned about. She did as they recommended, and the practitioner sent her in for an MRI.

Then, her life changed. While she was at work one day, she received a call. The MRI images revealed she had a brain tumor.

Starting Care

Followed the discovery of the tumor, Sherri was referred to a neurologist. Surprisingly, the headaches were not symptoms of the tumor, which was later diagnosed as an astrocytoma tumor. In fact, she had no symptoms from the tumor. She was 30 at the time, and given her young age, the physician's goal was to get her another 10 years of life.

Sherri went every three months for scans. During the several years following her initial diagnosis, the tumor was not moving or growing. She eventually moved to annual scans.

Sherri admits, though, that she missed a few scans. In February 2020, she had surgery to repair a broken wrist, and within a few weeks following the procedure, she had a seizure in her sleep.

After extensive testing, scans then showed what Sherri had feared. The tumor had changed.

Pursuing Treatment

Following a biopsy of the tumor in June 2020, Sherri's care team in another health system recommended her to the best and closest care, Northwestern Medicine Radiation Oncologist Vinai Gondi, MD and the Northwestern Medicine Proton Center.

Dr. Gondi put together a treatment plan. Since the tumor had started to grow closer to the right side of her brain, her care team wanted to treat it as soon as possible.

"Due to the large size of Sherri's tumor, proton therapy provided the safest treatment approach," Dr. Gondi says. "Our goal was to treat Sherri's tumor, prolong her survivorship and provide the best quality of life possible."

Sherri kicked off proton therapy in August 2020. She went Monday through Friday for six weeks and followed that with six months of oral chemotherapy.

"As you work with the Proton Center, you learn that this is what everybody is about," she says. "Whether it's the nurse taking my vitals or the doctors working with me themselves, I can't say enough about the team. I couldn't ask for anybody better."

Embracing Life

Today, thanks to proton therapy and accompanying treatments, Sherri's tumor has shrunk and is stable. There has been no growth since she underwent treatment, and she has yet to have any symptoms from the tumor.

Looking forward, Sherri is excited to live her life and to keep regular appointments to maintain her health.

"All these different life events have led me here," Sherri says. "And thanks to the Northwestern Medicine team, I'm grateful for the care I've received and to keep living my life."

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