The diagnosis of a rare brain tumor led 30 year-old Stephanie Mullins to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center Proton Therapy Center, where she found hope and healing.
Stephanie has always had poor eyesight, but when she noticed it getting increasingly worse, she decided to make an appointment with her optometrist. After a few routine tests, her physician referred her to an ophthalmologist who then sent her to see a neuro-ophthalmologist for a blood test and MRI.
The following day, Stephanie received a call she wasn’t expecting: the MRI revealed a tumor in her brain. She went in to see a neurosurgeon who diagnosed her with a brain tumor known as optic nerve glioma, a cancer typically seen in children.
“At first I was shocked and scared, but I wanted to find a solution,” Stephanie said.
A friend referred her to a local surgeon to whom Stephanie asked, “If I were your daughter, where would you send me?” His answer was MD Anderson.
With that advice, Stephanie drove to Houston to discuss her treatment options with an MD Anderson neurosurgeon. She was told the best treatment for her would not include surgery but instead chemotherapy or radiation. A team of MD Anderson experts met to discuss her case and recommended Stephanie undergo proton therapy.
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.
Stephanie rented an apartment in Houston and underwent proton therapy treatment at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center from March to April of 2009.
“In Stephanie’s case, proton therapy offered the best way to target the radiation treatment directly to the tumor while minimizing damage to other areas of her brain,” explained Stephanie's treating physician Dr. Anita Mahajan, medical director of the Proton Therapy Center and director of Clinical Pediatric Radiation Oncology at MD Anderson. “She sailed through treatment with virtually no difficulty.”
“It was such a calming environment. The staff was so sweet and caring,” said Stephanie. “And Dr. Mahajan was amazing. She was very thorough and explained everything in a way that gave me complete confidence.”
While in Houston Stephanie was constantly surrounded by family and friends. She credits her strong support system for getting her through this.
“I would tell anyone going through something like this to keep a strong support system around you. My family, friends and the Proton Therapy Center staff helped me maintain a positive mindset because your real battle is with your thoughts,” she said.
It has now been two years since Stephanie completed treatment. She has returned to Dallas and is back to work. She spends her free time planning her wedding this fall.