Meet Our Survivors: Chuck Martinez
In 2007, a year after surviving bladder cancer, 37-year-old Chuck Martinez received devastating news at a follow-up appointment. A routine chest X-ray revealed a mass in his right lung, which turned out to be stage IIIA non-small-cell lung cancer.
During a second opinion appointment with a team of cancer experts at MD Anderson, Chuck learned about proton therapy and the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center. His radiation oncologist Dr. Ritsuko Komaki, professor of Radiation Oncology, explained how proton therapy can precisely deliver high doses of powerful radiation directly to his tumor with less damage to nearby healthy organs.
“Knowing that proton therapy would allow my team to target the radiation directly to the tumor in my lung and protect my esophagus, spine and heart was extremely encouraging and all I needed to hear,” said Chuck, who was concerned about treatment-related side effects and how they might affect his life. “I knew I was going to receive the most advanced radiation treatment technology.”
Dr. Komaki, who has treated many lung cancer patients with proton therapy, agrees that proton therapy can be an excellent option for patients who have tumors located in sensitive areas of the body like the lung or in the chest.
“Chuck was a perfect candidate to receive proton therapy,” she explained. “With the location of his tumor, it was critical to limit the radiation dose to surrounding areas of his body, especially since he was on concurrent chemotherapy. Proton therapy allows us to precisely target the radiation just where the patient needs it.”
Every weekday for about seven weeks, Chuck received chemotherapy at the MD Anderson main campus and proton therapy treatments at the nearby MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center. He tolerated both therapies well and was able to maintain his weight during treatment. Plus, he enjoyed spending time at the Proton Therapy Center, bonding with other patients.
“The Proton Therapy Center is a huge state-of-the-art facility. I liked the fact that I was going to a place where they were experts in cancer and proton therapy,” said Chuck. “Everyone at the Proton Therapy Center was there for that type of treatment, so we all could immediately connect. Listening to each other’s stories and sharing what we were going through was an everyday occurrence. The camaraderie among patients and their family members is unlike any other – that’s something that I won’t forget. And the staff and therapists were fantastic to all of us.”
Chuck has been cancer-free for seven years. These days, he is mindful about his health and takes good care of himself, but he still wonders what may have been the cause for his lung cancer.
“I’ve never been a smoker, so it has been one of the big mysteries for me – why did I get lung cancer in my thirties having never smoked?,” said Chuck. “Before I was diagnosed in 2007, I was a drummer in a few cover bands, and I spent a lot of time playing in bars. Was it the second-hand smoke? Or was it the air pollution of the big city? I’ll never know for sure.”
Chuck still enjoys getting together with his old band mates and playing every now and then, but he spends most of his time with his family.
“My wife, Lora, and I both work, so we juggle our careers with raising our daughter, Mia,” said Chuck. “She’s 11 years old and keeps us busy. She’s the center of our lives.”
Through Chuck’s cancer journey, he has gone on to live a healthier, more active lifestyle. He lost 30 pounds and ran his first half marathon in January 2011, raising money for the charity, CanCare, Inc, an organization whose volunteers regularly visit cancer patients.
“It was one of the hardest and yet most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” said Chuck, who has now participated in six half-marathons and is training with his wife for another one. “It is very meaningful for me to be here and to be able to share such an accomplishment with my wife after all we’ve been through.”
Meet Our Survivors
Since treating our first patient in May 2006, the dedicated team at the Proton Therapy Center has helped countless patients overcome cancer and get back to living their lives. Click here to read our patient survivor stories.
Proton Therapy Resources
Proton Therapy: How it Works (2:51)
Pencil Beam Scanning (3:55)