John Sanders

Stories of hope: Cancer treatment technology sparks science interest

By Mayo Clinic Staff

John Sanders attends high school, holds two part-time jobs and exhibits a keen interest in science and engineering.

Two years ago, he began to have vision problems in his left eye that couldn't be corrected. Further testing revealed he had a tumor behind his eye. While surgery removed most of the tumor, the tumor began to grow back over the span of a year.

John's family was overjoyed to hear that Mayo Clinic had recently opened proton beam therapy and they wouldn't have to travel for his treatment.

With the residual tumor now growing, John underwent 5 1/2 weeks of proton beam therapy. With each treatment, John became more eager to learn about the science and engineering behind how radiation therapy works. His treatments coincided with the time he was required to do an internship for his school's CREST (Center for Research, Engineering, Science and Technology) honors program.

So, Thomas B. Daniels, M.D., a radiation oncologist at Mayo Clinic, helped arrange a job shadowing experience for John while he was going through treatment. John's interest in science and engineering — combined with his personal interest in his treatment — made this opportunity a great fit.

Justin D. Gagneur, a physicist in Mayo's Department of Radiation Oncology, showed John the ropes around the clinic, talked to him about the tools and math used to design the tailored treatment he was receiving, and shared how John's interest in science and engineering could translate to jobs in the medical field. John has "a scientifically questioning attitude," Gagneur says, and "was thoughtful, attentive and upbeat" throughout his shadowing experience.

On John's last day of treatment, he was told he was a celebrity of sorts. John was the milestone 100th patient to complete proton beam therapy at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. He was surprised and honored.