This past November, Michael started to experience problems with his ear. His family lives in Singapore. “It’s a tropical island,” said Michael’s mom, Chaoyan. “Michael and his younger brother swim all the time. We thought it was swimmer’s ear.”
During a soccer game, it became clear something more serious was going on when Michael’s ear began to bleed. Growing anxious, his parents took him to the family doctor, who noticed a growth in Michael’s ear. The doctor prescribed antibiotic drops and scheduled a procedure to remove the growth. “At that point, we didn’t think it was a big deal,” Chaoyan said.
The procedure only took half an hour, but the surgeon was surprised by the size of the growth and sent it for a biopsy. Two days later, the surgeon called with surprising news: Michael had rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of soft tissue cancer. The tumor was located in Michael’s middle ear.
“It was such a shock,” Chaoyan recalled. “My husband and I could not believe it. Michael was a healthy, active kid. He played soccer and ran cross country. How could he have cancer? It was frightening.”
Michael’s doctor recommended proton therapy, which was not available in Singapore. Luckily, one of the pediatric oncologists had done a fellowship at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and was familiar with the hospital. Michael’s doctors reached out for a referral.
Within days, Michael, his mother and grandmother were on a 17-hour flight to the U.S. St. Jude freely shares the discoveries it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children.
At St. Jude, Michael’s treatment will include chemotherapy and proton therapy. St. Jude is home to the world’s first proton beam therapy center dedicated solely for children. Proton therapy uses a small, precise beam of radiation to target the tumor, sparing surrounding healthy tissue.
“Our main reason for coming to St. Jude was for the proton therapy,” Chaoyan said. “But when we got here, we found such wonderful support – the doctors and nurses, social work, the child life specialists. Everyone has been wonderful.”
Michael misses home, especially his friends and the food, but he’s responding well to treatment and has been able to practice soccer and attend classes through the St. Jude school program. “We’ve developed a routine, a regular schedule,” Chaoyan said. “And we’ve met other parents and children.”
Recently, Michael’s dad and younger brother came to visit. Michael and Chaoyan loved being able to show them the place they’ve called home for the past six months. “The quality of Michael’s care here is the best,” Chaoyan said. “St. Jude is saving his life. We’re grateful to be here.”
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