In 2007, Carol Monroe visited her dermatologist for a routine check-up and her doctor discovered a cyst in the floor of her mouth. Further medical tests showed a rare, slow-growing glomus vagale tumor positioned next to her carotid artery.
Carol had no symptoms, a result of the slow onset that often causes such tumors to go unnoticed by physicians. She underwent surgery to remove the cyst, but the following year, a CAT scan revealed that the tumor was growing again. Carol had a choice to make: invasive surgery or radiation.
“When I was considering traditional radiation, one of my biggest concerns was the damage it would have on my body, like a terrible sunburn inside and out,” she said. “With research, I learned about proton therapy at MD Anderson Cancer Center and decided that proton was the best choice for me, as it minimizes the damage to healthy tissue while destroying cancerous cells.”
Under the care of Dr. Steven Frank, medical director for the Proton Therapy Center, Carol underwent 27 proton therapy sessions, five days a week for approximately five-and-a-half weeks.
For Carol, proton therapy turned out to be surprisingly easy. She says she never felt sick, and only suffered a mild sore throat and temporary loss of taste. Her friends and family made the commute with her to Houston from Orange, TX, providing emotional support and company, taking her out to restaurants and on shopping excursions to help pass time in Houston.
Carol, who turned 70 in November, completed treatment in 2010. Now she spends much of her free time working in the soup kitchen at St. Mary’s Church and frequently volunteers for Orange Christian Services, which provides clothes, food and financial support to those in need.
When volunteering, Carol often encounters people who have cancer stories. She commiserates and relates her experience – a simple but strong way to bond. “I’m glad to share my story,” she says. “And I’m grateful that my story has turned out very well.”