For about five years, Kate Mathis from Greenville, Kentucky, noticed that every time the weather changed her ears would begin to hurt. Then, she noticed some jaw pain followed by a bit of numbness in her face.
“I didn’t think too much about it,” Kate said. “I had TMJ as a teenager so it felt similar to that.”
However, it wasn’t until September 2016 while on a trip with her mom in Spain when Kate Mathis noticed a difference in her face. As Kate went over the pictures she took during the trip, she noticed that only her left side of her face was sunken in and not smiling.
When she returned home, Kate visited her nurse practitioner that determined she possibly had trigeminal neuralgia — a chronic pain condition that affects the trigeminal nerve in the face. As an additional precaution, Kate decided to also see a neurologist and neurosurgeon. After completing an MRI to rule out multiple sclerosis, doctors recommended surgery for what they believed was a bone mutation.
Election Day results
On November 8 (Election Day), Kate sat in the doctor’s office with her husband and mother by her side, and listened as the doctor explained her biopsy results. He informed her she had a condition called adenocarcinoma of the nasopharynx. Nasopharyngeal cancer is rare type of head and neck cancer that starts in the upper part of the throat, behind the nose.
Due to the complex location of head and neck tumors, Kate’s doctors believed she needed expert care and recommended The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Soon after, Kate had an appointment scheduled and arrived at MD Anderson in November 2016. After several tests, doctors decided that proton therapy would be the best approach for Kate.
Proton therapy has the advantage of targeting tumors precisely while minimizing damage to healthy surrounding tissue.
“Because of how precise proton therapy was, I knew standard radiation was not an option,” Kate recalls.
Side effects such as loss of taste, dry mouth, damage to salivary glands or need for feeding tubes are also reduced with proton therapy compared to traditional radiation.
“Proton therapy would not damage my tissue in the brain, eyes and ears because of how precise it is,” Kate said.
Kate began treatment at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center in early 2016 and received a total of 33 proton therapy treatments, once a day, five days a week.
Blogging her journey
Throughout her journey with cancer, Kate found comfort in writing and decided to share her experience on her blog. Blogging was a place where she could be honest and transparent. On her blog, she shared her trials and triumphs. She described a typical treatment day, her new friendships with fellow patients and also how cancer was changing her outlook on life.
“Before cancer, I had a really hard time receiving love. Now, I’m available to receive love especially from my amazing husband,” Kate said. “If I get upset, I tell myself, ‘Hey, nobody has cancer today.’”
Kate and her husband, Cary, recently celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. They are the proud parents of three children. In her spare time, Kate enjoys reading, listening to podcasts, and dreaming of new business ideas.
“Proton therapy would not damage my tissue in the brain, eyes and ears because of how precise it is."
Nasopharyngeal Cancer Survivor