Nasopharyngeal cancer survivor faces the same cancer diagnosis as three family members
Growing up with a family history of cancer, Jonathan Ting knew the importance of regular checkups. If anything were to happen, he wanted to ensure it would be caught early.
When his ENT saw some irregularities and heard about his family history, he had Jonathan undergo an MRI and biopsy. The MRI came back clear, but the biopsy showed a small tumor. Jonathan was diagnosed with stage I nasopharyngeal cancer, a rare type of head and neck cancer and skull base tumor.
Jonathan’s father had died from nasopharyngeal cancer at age 51, and his aunt and uncle also had received treatment for this same type of cancer.
“My wife and I were in complete shock that this was happening,” Jonathan recalls. “But finding this at an early stage gave me hope that my story could be different.”
Facing a nasopharyngeal cancer diagnosis
Originally from Canada, Jonathan was grateful to now live in Houston near the No. 1 cancer hospital in the United States.
In April 2020, he was referred to MD Anderson’s Head and Neck Center, where surgeon Randal Weber, M.D., confirmed his diagnosis. Since the tumor was too dangerous to remove, Jonathan’s care team recommended six weeks of proton therapy under the care of radiation oncologist Steven Frank, M.D. Proton beam therapy delivers radiation directly to the tumor, destroying cancer cells while sparing healthy tissue and minimizing side effects.
Undergoing treatment for nasopharyngeal cancer treatment
During treatment, Jonathan continued to work from home. “All of my treatments were evening appointments, so I would rest and sleep as much as I could,” he says.
He kept count of his daily calorie intake to keep his body strong and make sure he did not lose any weight. He ate a lot of soft foods, like rice porridge, fish, eggs, soft noodles and cream corn. He also tried to add oil to meals to boost the calories.
Some of Jonathan’s side effects during treatment included painful swallowing, mouth sores, fatigue and mucus discharge in his nose. “It felt like I had water in my right ear,” Jonathan recalls. “But my side effects were minor compared to what my dad and aunt had experienced during radiation therapy over 15 years ago. My dad’s taste buds were affected, and my aunt’s hearing was permanently damaged.”
When Jonathan had mouth sores, he could always count on a response from physician assistant Elizabeth Antholzner, who provided instructions to manage his symptoms. With regular oral rinses and swallowing exercises, Jonathan’s sores soon healed.
“Dr. Frank and the staff at the Proton Therapy Center gave me a lot of support,” Jonathan says. “From the insurance process all the way through treatment.”
Making each day count after cancer treatment
Jonathan’s last proton therapy treatment was in June 2020. For now, he returns to MD Anderson for scans every six months. He remains cancer-free.
“I’m thankful for the advances in radiation,” Jonathan says. “My side effects were minimized because of proton therapy.”
He has a new perspective on life now and wants to spend each day focusing on the important things, like his wife and their new baby.
“In your 30s, you think you have a lot of time left, until something like this happens to you,” says Jonathan. “I know first-hand that my experience could have turned out differently.”