The first signs that something might be wrong with 1-year-old Ava Jacobs were slight, almost undetectable.
“Her daycare teachers noticed she tilted her head some,” said Amy Jacobs, Ava’s mother. “At the time, we hadn’t noticed it but looking at old pictures, her head is tilted to the side in some of them.”
It wasn’t until Ava’s parents, residents of Clear Lake, a suburb of Houston, took her to her pediatrician for a check-up that they were given any real cause for worry.
“The doctor measured and re-measured the circumference of Ava’s head,” Amy said. “It was two centimeters larger than a “normal” one-year-old’s head. Those two extra centimeters put her in the range of a two- or three-year-old.”
Two centimeters may seem very small and insignificant, but it was enough to concern Ava’s doctor. The Jacobs were told there were several possible causes for their daughter’s increased head size. At best, their daughter simply had a larger than normal head. At worst, she had a brain tumor. It was decided that she would have a CT scan the following day.
Amy, a nurse practitioner, knew how precious time was in situations like these and refused to wait until the next day to have the scan. Amy immediately took Ava to an emergency room in Clear Lake to have the scan done that night.
“I immediately saw the tumor on the CT scan,” she said. “It was on her cerebellum. Within an hour her pediatrician arrived, and we were being transferred to the Texas Medical Center.”
Ava was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma. With this discovery, Amy and Jeremy were faced with difficult decisions concerning Ava’s care. Both parents did extensive research, pouring over medical papers and asking Ava’s team of doctors endless questions.
One day, Jeremy, an engineer for NASA, heard a commercial on the radio about MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center. Suddenly, he had a revelation.
“I had worked with proton radiation on materials at NASA,” he said. “I asked around to all of my colleagues to find out what they thought about proton therapy for Ava. They all told me it was, without a doubt, Ava’s best option.”
Proton therapy is an advanced type of radiation treatment that uses a beam of protons to irradiate – or deliver radiation – directly to the tumor, destroying cancer cells while sparing surrounding healthy tissue and other critical areas or vital organs.
The couple had Ava referred to the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center and joined her at each of her 25 treatments.
“The staff at the Proton Therapy Center was tremendous,” Amy said. “Ava’s favorite cartoon character was Minnie Mouse, so they designed the mask she wore for treatment to look like Minnie Mouse, and they brought her dolls. They’re just fabulous, caring people.”
During her time at the center, Ava bonded with the staff and became best friends with another patient named Joshua. Unfortunately, Joshua lost his fight against cancer. Ava drew inspiration from this loss and honored her best friend by writing a song in his memory.
Now, 10-year-old Ava is busy singing, writing and performing in the theater. Her other talents include playing the piano and guitar. For Ava, proton therapy helped her overcome her diagnosis, and she’s now back to enjoying life.
“The Proton Therapy Center played a huge role in Ava overcoming her cancer and the therapy is the reason she is able to move forward with the same quality of life anyone can expect,” said Jeremy.