BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Joey Boudreau was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2015, but with a grueling treatment, Boudreau beat it. Then came the news that the cancer had spread to his lungs.
He beat that, too. But soon after, he began to lose feeling and control in his right arm. A scan revealed his cancer returned for a third time with two tumors in his brain.
"For this tumor to go to the brain, we see it in maybe one in every 200 cases," said radiation oncologist Dr. Charles Wood.
Woods treated Boudreau from the beginning and the two developed a friendship. The rough diagnosis also came with some good news. The tumor was in a spot that was operable and Boudreau was eligible for gamma knife radiation treatment, an advanced treatment available in only a handful of hospitals nationwide, including Mary Bird Perkins Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center.
"This is past Star Wars. This is truly science fiction. We've never had any kind of machine that can do what this does," Wood explained.
The machine delivers an extremely precise dose of radiation. It's so exact that it only attacks the tumor it's targeting, leaving the rest of the brain virtually untouched. For patients, that means fewer treatments and very few side effects.
However, the treatment does involve wearing a customized molded plastic mask. The mask locks the patient's head in place so the machine can accurately treat the affected area. Treatment times vary. For Boudreau, he had to lie in place for a record 92 minutes.
But Boudreau had another plan for his treatment. He found out that Dr. Wood is a huge Star Wars fan and decided another mask could give his treatment a boost from "The Force" and provide a much needed laugh. With help from hospital staff, Boudreau got set on the machine wearing a Chewbacca mask that roars.
"Our therapist ran into the clinic, pulled me out of the room and said, 'There's a problem with the mask,"" Wood recounted. "When I walked into the room, Mr. Boudreau was on his back in perfect position, with a Chewbacca mask. He was growling like a Wookie when I walked in."
The prank was caught on camera. It was also a reminder that healing wears all kinds of masks.
"You got to have a little joking," Boudreau said. "You got to have a little laugh."