Two views of Ryan Schlosser, one as a bald teenager during treatment and the other as a healthy adult.
Left: Ryan Schlosser at age 16 during his proton beam therapy. Right: Ryan at age 25 after receiving his master's degree in occupational therapy. Photos courtesy of Ryan Schlosser.

When Ryan Schlosser graduated with his master’s degree from Midwestern University in May 2015, he thought of the many people who supported him along the way. He thought of his parents and their endless encouragement and his friends for their laughter and support. He also thought of his care team at Mass General for Children (MGfC), who played a larger role in Ryan’s success than he ever imagined.

Ryan, who lives in Auburn, Ind., was just 13 years old when he was diagnosed with multiple brain tumors. Ryan endured two brain tumor surgeries – the first at age 13, which resulted in a stroke, leaving him with physical and mental disabilities. When Ryan had the second surgery, doctors found more brain tumors in an inoperable part of the brain. Then, after consulting with several doctors across the United States, Ryan went through 18 months of chemotherapy. Still, the tumors grew back.

After searching across the country for medical opinions and treatment options, Ryan and his parents found the Francis H. Burr Proton Therapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, one of few facilities in the United States to offer proton beam therapy.

“Proton beam therapy is a form of targeted radiation therapy designed to shrink tumor cells while helping to preserve more surrounding healthy tissue. This is especially important for children and teenagers, who are more vulnerable to the effects of radiation because their brains and bodies are still growing,” said Torunn Yock, MD, director of Pediatric Radiation Oncology at MGfC and member of Ryan’s care team. “By preserving more surrounding healthy tissue, there are fewer long-term effects on growth and development.”

Ryan came to the Burr Proton Therapy Center in August 2006 to begin eight weeks of treatment. He was 16 and had just started his junior year of high school. “I was anxious for my first proton treatment and about what would happen,” said Ryan. “As my brain tumors had repeatedly begun to grow back, it really seemed like my last viable treatment plan.”

Throughout his intensive treatment, Ryan’s neuropsychologist and some of his doctors in Indiana were unsure of whether he’d even finish high school or go to college. Now, nine years after his last treatment, Ryan credits the proton beam therapy and his care team at the Burr Proton Therapy Center with help to continue his academic and personal success.

“I’ve successfully received my undergraduate degree and went on to receive my master’s degree in occupational therapy,” said Ryan, who also passed the exam to become board-certified in occupational therapy. “I really believe the proton beam treatment helped preserve brain tissue and enable my academic success.”

In addition to providing top-notch clinical care, the staff at the Burr Proton Therapy Center offered what Ryan needed most during his treatments: unwavering belief in him both academically and personally. When Ryan was applying for colleges, Yock supported him with scholarship recommendations. Rachel Bolton, RN, a nurse in Pediatric Radiation Oncology, provided kindness to lighten the mood on difficult days. Yock, Robin Jones, MD, and David Ebb, MD, physicians in Pediatric Hematology-Oncology at MGfC, provided clinical expertise coupled with compassion and patience.

“All three of my doctors, along with all of the other staff members, took time and interest in me and didn’t leave until each and every one of my or my parents’ questions and concerns were addressed,” said Ryan. “They, along with Rachel, had smiles on their faces, which can go a long way for a family in a difficult situation.”

For his care team, setting limits for Ryan didn't cross their minds. “Ryan is an amazing young man who’s transcended a lot of challenges,” said Jones. “I look at him now with admiration for everything he’s overcome and for his commitment to pursuing occupational therapy. I think he’ll find it very rewarding and that he’ll be able to use his own experiences to truly connect with patients on many levels.”

Now, Ryan hopes to land a job as an outpatient occupational therapist in Indiana. “My hopes are to make an impact on my patients’ lives in a positive light,” he said. “After graduate school, I’ve learned how to take both the positive and challenging aspects of my own experiences with occupational therapy and mold them into a positive experience for my future patients to succeed.”