Navigating a cancer diagnosis is daunting, but Austin resident Vaughn Bradley was proactive in seeking the treatment she trusted would give her the best chance of survival – and quality of life. Not one to accept the first medical opinion, her Internet research led her to treatment options at The University of Texas MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center in Houston.
Diagnosed at age 53 with nasopharyngeal cancer, a rare tumor affecting the uppermost region of the throat, Bradley was determined to find a better solution than the prescribed treatment of traditional radiation.
“My biggest worry was the long-term side effects of radiation,” she says. “The thought of life after cancer with potentially no sense of taste or smell was unbearable. I went right outside and smelled the flowers in my yard and even my horse, Sir, fearing it could be the last time.”
She was single-minded in her determination to receive proton therapy – an advanced form of radiation that targets tumors precisely while minimizing damage to healthy surrounding tissue. The therapy can be an excellent radiation treatment option for many types of cancer, with research showing it can reduce the risk of short- and long-term side effects that impair quality of life.
In her pursuit of proton treatment, Bradley sought the help of MD Anderson patient advocate Trinette Evans, who secured a consultation with proton therapy expert Steven J. Frank, M.D. in the Division of Radiation Oncology. “Patient advocates wear many hats, but our mission is to help patients get the care they need and deserve,” says Evans. “Providing the kind of support that Vaughn received is as much a part of the multidisciplinary care as her medical treatment.”
The complex location of the tumor made her a viable candidate for proton therapy. “Because the protons’ powerful energy can be largely confined to the cancerous tissue, key quality of life factors, such as Vaughn’s sense of smell, taste and ability to swallow remain virtually untouched,” says Dr. Frank. “Proton therapy has the potential to be the future of radiation therapy for head and neck cancers because its unique physical properties make it a natural extension of all the external beam therapies to date.”
Bradley completed her proton treatments in March 2012 and is still cancer free. She says she suffered minimal side effects and is living a normal life without any lifestyle changes.
“When fighting for your life, it’s essential that you advocate for yourself. With some help, like I found at MD Anderson, you can and should play a role in your medical treatment.”