Cathleen McBurney

Proton Patient of MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center

“Proton therapy saved my life. What more is there to say?”

When Cathleen McBurney was diagnosed with a Stage IV, inoperable, extremely rare ACC tumor, her Head/Neck Surgeon at MD Anderson, Dr. Ehab Hanna, told her that proton therapy was her only hope for life. She quickly met with Dr. Steven Frank at MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, who not only agreed but believed he could significantly help improve her post treatment quality of life. Fortunately, her husband’s company’s self-funded insurance plan covered the treatment without the usual denials.

Cathleen underwent 33 proton treatments and 6 Cisplatin treatments. Despite the tumor sitting on her optic nerve, she did not lose vision in her right eye. She also avoided the need for a feeding tube, maintained her weight, and experienced minimal side effects compared to traditional radiation.

Cathleen’s journey was not without challenges. The extent and location of the tumor required specialized care from the proton therapy team at MD Anderson. She received concurrent treatment with 33 proton treatments and six Cisplatin treatments aimed to enhance the proton therapy’s efficacy. The most difficult side effects were sores in her mouth, which made eating and drinking challenging, but she managed without needing a feeding tube.

Support from her friends, family, and medical staff was invaluable. Dr. Frank, along with the supportive and caring staff, provided a safe and compassionate environment. Through this process, Cathleen realized the importance of using her voice to help others who might not have the strength or knowledge to advocate for themselves. She emphasizes the value of each day and the importance of fighting for life.

“The efficacy of proton therapy cannot be denied!” she exclaims. She advises seeking a second opinion if a doctor is not associated with a proton center and not to be deterred by insurance denials. “Don’t let a denial from insurance stop you from pursuing a medically necessary treatment,” she asserts. “Doctors, not insurance companies, should be making medical decisions for their patients. It’s worth the fight. Proton therapy saved my life. What more is there to say?”

Cathleen encourages others to pursue proton therapy, if possible, as the quality of life improvements both in the short and long term can be significant compared to other treatments.

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