A routine check-up in Ponce, Puerto Rico, brought 42-year-old Jose Rovira over 2,000 miles to Houston.
How a routine annual check up uncovered a mass
In the summer of 2007, Jose went in for an annual exam. He felt fine, looked great, and his lab work came back with no indication that he was anything but healthy. However, a routine chest x-ray revealed a mass beside his trachea. Immediately a biopsy was taken, but the results were inconclusive.
“My doctor in Puerto Rico wanted to do another procedure to get conclusive biopsy results, but I thought it was best if I headed to the states for further testing,” Jose said.
When Jose notified his doctor, Fernando Cabanillas, M.D., that he was planning to come to the United States, his doctor recommended MD Anderson.
In early September of 2007, Jose came to Houston for fine needle tests and a CT-guided procedure (mediastinoscopy) in order to get a sample of the mass in his chest. The result of the biopsy was that Jose had Stage IIIB nonsmall cell carcinoma of the lung.
Treating an inoperable nonsmall cell carcinoma of the lung
With the location of the tumor making it inoperable, Jose was referred to Joe Chang, M.D., professor in Radiation Oncology at MD Anderson, to discuss radiation treatment options. He was then informed that he was a candidate for proton therapy.
According to Dr. Chang, “Jose was the perfect candidate to receive proton therapy because the location of his tumor was near his trachea, a very sensitive structure.”
Additionally, he explained, “with the precision of this type of radiation treatment, we were able to target his tumor and spare the majority of his trachea from receiving unnecessary radiation which greatly reduces the probability of long-term treatment related side-effects in a case like Jose’s.”
“I had never heard of proton therapy until they told me I was eligible for it,” Jose said. “So I called friends of mine back home who are doctors to ask them if they have heard of proton therapy and what they thought. They pretty much all told me to go for it.”
And that’s just what he did. Jose flew to the U.S. with the intention of receiving the best treatment for his type of cancer. For him, this meant proton therapy. Jose committed to remaining in Houston for the duration of his treatment, which was 12 weeks—what he feels is a small amount of time when it means receiving the most advanced and precise treatment available.
While undergoing treatment, Jose says he never experienced any distress or adverse side effects. And when it came time to ring the ceremonial gong on his last day, he felt mixed emotions.
“It becomes like a family at the Proton Therapy Center, so when you graduate from treatment you’re excited to get to go home, but at the same time you are saying goodbye to people you saw every day and got close to,” he said.
Becoming a proton therapy advocate
Since completing treatment in early 2008, Jose has become a huge advocate for proton therapy and refers people to MD Anderson any time he can.
“If someone in Ponce has cancer they call me, and I tell them to go to MD Anderson.”
Back home, Jose and his family own and operate a cracker and cookie manufacturing company. When he’s not running the family business, he can be found out on the water sailing and fishing.
When asked what is the most important piece of advice he can give to other patients, Jose said it’s being positive.
“The mind is powerful. It can help you or it can hurt you, so it’s very important to stay positive.”
With the precision of proton therapy treatment, we were able to target his tumor and spare the majority of his trachea from receiving unnecessary radiation which greatly reduces the probability of long-term treatment related side-effects in a case like Jose’s.
Dr. Joe Chang
Professor, Department of Radiation Oncology