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Meet Our Survivors: Victoria Fox

Victoria Fox, Parameningeal Embryonal Rhabdomysarcoma

On January 10, 2011, when three-year-old Victoria Fox became ill, her mother Vanessa was concerned but not overly so. Victoria had never been sick, but eventually all kids experience an upset tummy, Vanessa reasoned.

But as Victoria’s condition continued, Vanessa noticed her daughter also was beginning to lose function and vision in her right eye; Vanessa rushed Victoria to her pediatrician.

After an initial exam, tests revealed a tumor behind Victoria’s right eye. She was admitted into the hospital in Dallas, near her home in Denton, having been diagnosed with parameningeal embryonal rhabdomysarcoma, a type of cancer that can appear during a child’s first decade.

A treatment plan including chemotherapy and radiation was recommended. While discussing her daughter’s treatment options with an oncologist, Vanessa was alarmed by the possible side effects Victoria might experience as a result of traditional radiation: “They mentioned facial reconstruction and brain damage,” Vanessa said.

Wanting to avoid such life-altering side effects, Victoria’s father, Brian, asked the doctor if there were any other options for radiation. The oncologist mentioned proton therapy to the family, and Brian began researching the option at home, since the physician seemed to know very little about it. Everything they read pointed to fewer side effects, both short- and long-term, which meant that proton therapy was definitely something they wanted to explore for their young daughter. The Fox family decided to visit with experts at MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center to see if proton therapy was the right option for Victoria.

Vanessa inquired about possible side effects, and though there wasn’t a guarantee of zero side effects for Victoria – or any patient – they did realize the potential need for facial reconstruction was substantially lower than with traditional radiation. Vanessa was thrilled: “I thought, ‘My daughter is going to live and have a normal life!’”

With Vanessa and Brian convinced proton therapy was the best option, Victoria started treatment at MD Anderson on February 7, 2011. For most pediatric patients as young as Victoria, anesthesia is recommended to ensure they remain completely still during treatment. But after Victoria practiced lying motionless, with the help of the Proton Therapy Center’s dedicated child life specialist, her treatment team felt she might be able to lie still during treatment without sedation – and she was.

“Victoria was an excellent candidate to receive proton therapy for her type of cancer,” explained Victoria’s physician, Anita Mahajan, M.D., and medical director of the Proton Therapy Center. “We were able to deliver a high dose of radiation directly to the tumor while sparing healthy, developing structures and tissues. Victoria tolerated treatment well and it is wonderful to see her thriving and growing into a beautiful young lady.”

By the time Victoria had her initial consultation with Dr. Mahajan in February, Victoria’s right eye had lost substantial vision and mobility and was swollen shut. When Victoria completed treatment on March 16, her eye was fully open and mobile, a development that brought her mother to tears. Victoria experienced no side effects from her treatment, other than some redness of the skin, which has gone away, and some hair loss, which has long since grown back, according to Vanessa.

Today the Fox family lives in Oklahoma City, where Vanessa dedicates her time to carrying for their three kids, including Victoria, an older sister and a younger brother, who was born just days after Victoria was diagnosed. Vanessa and Brian report that Victoria, now more than a year out from treatment, is doing great and is getting ready to start kindergarten.

When asked what advice she would give other parents trying to determine the best treatment for their child’s cancer diagnosis, Vanessa said, “I wouldn’t even explore the other options anymore. For a treatment to do the least amount of damage to healthy tissue and to get right on target with the tumor, I would say try proton therapy first as opposed to causing more damage to the rest of the healthy tissue.”

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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.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center