In June 2012, five-year-old Alessandra Alvarado showed symptoms similar to facial palsy. Concerned and not knowing exactly her condition, her parents visited a doctor in their hometown of Austin, Texas. After an examination, doctors diagnosed Alessandra with Bell’s palsy, but after several weeks of no improvement, her parents sought second opinions. After undergoing a biopsy, doctors found a tumor in her middle ear called a rhabdomyosarcoma. Rhabdomyosarcoma is a rare cancer. Her parents knew the importance of finding the best possible treatment for Alessandra due to the tumor’s location and began doing thorough researching.
Arriving at MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center
Soon after, Alessandra was scheduled for an appointment at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Physicians informed Alessandra’s parents about the benefits of proton therapy versus conventional radiation. Proton therapy would be able to precisely target the tumor and spare critical tissues surrounding the tumor. In Alessandra’s case, proton therapy was able to help spare her ear, jaw, eyes and most importantly her brain. “Knowing we could spare parts like her brain, eyes and critical structures was really important,” Alessandra’s mom said.
Alessandra arrived at MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center in late July of 2012 and received a total of 28 treatments in conjunction with chemotherapy.
Child Life Specialist — Making a difference
Cancer is terrifying for anyone, but even more for a child. When Alessandra arrived at our Proton Therapy Center, she was very nervous and unsure of what to expect. Our child life specialist helped ease Alessandra’s fears before and during her treatment. “Luckily, I had a child life specialist who would walk me through the process and show me on the toys how it all worked and that made it big difference. It gave me more confidence,” Alessandra said.
Because of proton therapy, 11-year-old Alessandra Alvarado continues doing the things she loves in life. She recently returned from her yearly summer sailing camp that she’s been attending since she was 5 years old. There were even new skills developed during her treatment. Alessandra discovered a newfound love for cooking. She loves making pasta and has mastered her culinary skills in making homemade fettuccine.
Her advice for others beginning or undergoing treatment, “Even if you are nervous, everyone is here to help you and everything is going to be ok. Stay confident,” Alessandra said. Alessandra is now in 6th grade and aspires to become a professor.