When Louise Chaung, a chemical engineer from Houston, noticed her left eye began to tear more than normal, she assumed it was nothing to worry about.
“After two months, I was so tired of still wiping my eye and face from the tearing,” she said. “I finally went to an ophthalmologist who diagnosed me with dacryocystitis, or an infection in the tear duct caused by a blockage, and prescribed antibiotics to clear it up.”
When the antibiotics didn’t help, Louise was scheduled for a surgery to remove the blockage caused from the infection. But first, she underwent a pre-surgery MRI that turned up abnormal results and led to Louise being diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the nasolacrimal duct, a rare cancer, adjacent to her eye.
“After the diagnosis, there was no question of where I wanted to be treated,” she said. “I can’t imagine why anyone with cancer would go anywhere except MD Anderson.”
At MD Anderson, Louise underwent an emotionally taxing surgery to remove the tumor from her eye.
“I had read about this cancer and I knew that survivors often lose their eye and are disfigured,” she said. “Before surgery, I had to give consent to lose my left eye. I’m not overly concerned with appearances but that was difficult.”
To Louise’s surprise and relief, she awoke after surgery with her left eye in place.
“I hadn’t even considered the possibility of keeping my eye,” she said. “I’m so thankful to Dr. Esmaeli, my surgeon at MD Anderson. I don’t even have obvious scarring. The very next day I was up and about and feeling fine.”
After surgery, Louise required radiation treatment. Under the care of Dr. Steven Frank, traditional radiation (IMRT) and proton therapy were evaluated as possible treatment options.
“I first heard about the Proton Therapy Center from a friend at work whose daughter is a nurse at MD Anderson,” Louise said and she was very interested in proton therapy because if it’s distinct advantages.
Proton therapy, an advanced type of radiation treatment, uses a beam of protons to precisely deliver radiation directly to the tumor, destroying cancer cells while sparing surrounding healthy tissue and other critical areas or vital organs nearby.
“Because of the proximity of Louise’s tumor to the eye, she needed the most targeted radiation treatment available,” says Steven Frank, M.D., Louise’s radiation oncologist and an associate professor of Radiation Oncology. “Proton therapy allowed us to precisely and successfully treat her tumor while maintaining her vision and sparing the delicate healthy tissues near the tumor.”
Louise remembers feeling good and continuing to live her life during her proton therapy treatment.
“Through the whole process I never felt sick or tired or anything like that,” she said. “After I was diagnosed, I was scared but when I was at the Proton Therapy Center, I felt like I was in good hands. I was never depressed. There’s a positive energy there.”
Louise rang the gong, a ceremony signaling the end of treatment, on December 31, 2008, before ringing in a new year. Today, almost three years later, she remains cancer free.
“I haven’t seen any deterioration in my eye, I have no blind spots and I still have 20/20 vision,” she said. “A doctor of mine once referred to proton therapy as the greatest thing since sliced bread and it really is. I hope more and more people are able to be treated at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center.”