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10,000 Miles Apart, Social Media Connection Leads to Advanced Cancer Treatment

Dale Newman’s long journey from Adelaide, Australia to Warrenville, Illinois began with a 2015 motocross crash. A CT scan revealed a brain tumor in the left temporal lobe. The tumor slowly grew, and in 2017 surgeons were able to remove one-third of the mass. More treatment was necessary.

Concerned about potential side-effects of standard radiation, Dale’s wife Amber searched online for other options. In an online brain tumor support group, she met someone who would alter the future course of Dale’s treatment.

A brain tumor survivor, Ann Marie Kappa of Glen Ellyn, Ill., had undergone proton therapy at the Northwestern Medicine Chicago Proton Center. The advanced form of radiation uses protons – heavy, positively charged atomic particles – instead of standard X-rays. She encouraged Amber to send Dale’s scans to the Center.

“Proton therapy is particularly suited to the complexity of treating brain tumors. Protons deposit much of their energy directly in the tumor and then stop, whereas conventional radiation continues to deposit the dose beyond the tumor,” said Vinai Gondi, MD, a radiation oncologist and director of clinical research at the Northwestern Medicine Chicago Proton Center.

Dale, Amber and their children, 11-year-old Josh, and 8-year-old Ella, traveled 10,000 miles and settled into an extended stay hotel for 2 1/2 months of treatment.

“Dale isn’t going to be around if he doesn’t get this treatment,” said Amber. “It is worth every sacrifice if Dale is still here to teach his kids to drive and walk his daughter down the aisle.”

The family developed a special bond with Jennifer Jefferis, RN, clinical intake coordinator at the Northwestern Medicine Chicago Proton Center, who made the Chicago-area feel more like home by helping enroll Josh and Ella at Bower Elementary School, scheduling transportation, and connecting the family to area attractions.

“Not only are our international patients going through an extremely emotional and challenging time in their lives but they are also doing it so far away from home without the support of nearby friends and family,” said Jefferis. “Whatever we can do to make them feel extra special and comfortable brings me great joy and satisfaction.”

The friendship Ann and Amber cultivated online blossomed as Ann and her family welcomed the Newmans with open arms -- hosting holiday dinners, organizing site-seeing trips, and going on frequent shopping excursions.

“We spend as much time as we possibly can with them,” said Ann. “I can’t imagine not having the Newmans in my life. We love them to pieces and want to make this the best experience as possible.”

The Newman and Kappa families gather at Dale Newman's graduation ceremony at the Chicago Proton Center
The families have visited the Bean, traveled to the top of the Hancock, and despite some initial concerns about Chicago’s climate, the wintery weather has been wondrous for Josh and Ella, who have never seen snow.

“We had a beautiful snowfall during our visit to the Brookfield Zoo Holiday Lights. It was a magical day and for a few hours, the whole family was able to forget why we are really here,” said Amber.

Dale Newman receives a challenge coin at his graduation from the Chicago Proton CenterAfter completion of Dale’s proton treatment on December 29th; the family is headed to Disneyland before returning home to Australia on January 15th. He will receive follow-up treatment in Australia to chart his progress.

“I’m hoping for the best outcome from this treatment and look forward to a positive future,” said Dale. “I want our children to remember the new places, unique experiences, and the people who will be our friends for life.”

The Northwestern Medicine Chicago Proton Center is the first and only proton therapy center in Illinois to bring innovative proton radiation treatment to patients. The Center has treated patients from 14 different countries since opening in 2010. For more information visit chicagoprotoncenter.com.