Ever since high school, Ethan Damron has wanted to be a radiation oncologist. In July 2019, he and his wife, Kendra, moved to Houston so Ethan could begin medical school. During his first semester, he started experiencing debilitating migraines. These seemed to be worse than the migraines he had been getting for many years
A neurologist suggested that Ethan undergo an MRI. At 6 p.m. on Dec. 3, 2019, Ethan received a call that would change his life: he had a brain tumor the size of a golf ball. Little did he know that he would soon begin treatment for an astrocytoma.
“To say I was shocked is an understatement,” Ethan says. “I had to sit down because it felt like the world was spinning. I was 25 years old. How could this be happening?”
Choosing MD Anderson for brain tumor treatment
Because Ethan was attending medical school in Houston, he was aware of MD Anderson’s reputation for cancer care. Before his diagnosis, he had been shadowing oncologists and doing research in radiation oncology here.
“I got to see MD Anderson’s dedication to patient care firsthand,” Ethan says. “When I found out I had a brain tumor, the decision to seek care at MD Anderson was easy because of my experiences as a medical student.”
He met with Weinberg first. Ethan says the moment Weinberg walked in the door, he and his wife felt calm. Weinberg pulled up Ethan’s scans and said that the tumor looked low-grade, like a glioma. A craniotomy was scheduled for January 13. The surgery took about four hours, and 99% of the tumor was removed. Weinberg said Ethan’s recovery would take about two weeks.
Ten days after surgery, Ethan was back to normal. He met with Weathers to discuss the next steps in his treatment plan. Results from pathology confirmed that the tumor was a type of glioma called an astrocytoma. Ethan would complete six weeks of proton therapy, followed by 12 cycles of chemotherapy.
Ethan underwent 30 proton therapy treatments under McAleer’s care over the course of six weeks. Ethan says he was nervous at first.
“At the beginning, it was kind of freaky because I’m radiating my brain,” he says. “I was a little apprehensive, but Dr. McAleer was very calm.” Though he describes proton therapy as “painless,” Ethan felt tired.
Perseverence during chemotherapy
After proton therapy, Ethan began 12 months of chemotherapy. He took five temozolomide pills every 28 days.
Chemotherapy was the most difficult part of Ethan’s treatment. He had serious nausea. Thankfully, Weathers was able to provide medication that made him less nauseous.
“The hardest thing about chemotherapy is the mental game,” Ethan says. “I struggled mentally, emotionally and physically. I finished surgery and it wasn’t fun, but I knew I would be back to normal in two weeks. I finished radiation and was tired, but it had minimal side effects. With chemotherapy you think, I have to do this 11 more times. I’ve got to do this again 10 more times. By the ninth cycle, I was struggling. The idea of going through chemotherapy three more times, being as sick as I was, was really hard.”
But Ethan persevered. He credits his family and his care team at MD Anderson with getting him through treatment.
“What I love about MD Anderson is how valued I felt by the physicians and care team,” he says. “Seeing Dr. McAleer every week and seeing Dr. Weathers every month was an uplifting experience given how confident and caring they were.”
Not only did Ethan’s doctors care about him; they always asked about his wife and family, which Kendra appreciated.
“I was grateful that he was able to receive treatment at MD Anderson,” Kendra says. “We left my family and support system for Ethan to start medical school, so I was no longer in a place that was familiar to me. One thing that constantly brought me comfort throughout Ethan’s treatment was that we were at the best of the best, the No. 1 cancer hospital in the world.”
But that’s not the only comfort the couple found during their time at MD Anderson. Ethan and Kendra welcomed a beautiful baby girl, Jane, in November 2020. They call her their miracle baby.
Life after brain tumor treatment
After a year off from medical school, Ethan returned to complete his first year in January 2021, while finishing his last three cycles of chemotherapy. He aced his courses. And in March 2021, he completed treatment.
Ethan has three more years of medical school to complete, but he knows, without a doubt, that becoming a radiation oncologist is still his dream job.
“MD Anderson has definitely solidified me becoming a radiation oncologist,” he says. “As I continue my medical training and career, I hope I can take the lessons I’ve learned while being a cancer patient and treat my patients with the same expertise, compassion and empathy I received at MD Anderson.”