Texas Center Treats 3,000th Patient

Publication: Irving Rambler

April 27, 2022

Irving—Since opening in November 2015, the Texas Center for Proton Therapy has been creating hope in cancer patients by using the latest technology to treat tumors in a non-invasive fashion with fewer side effects than other methods. The Irving facility treated its 3,000th patient as Walker Huggins, 16, of Midland received his final radiation treatment on Monday, April 11.

“[I feel] really good, feel closer to getting my strength back, my energy back, and everything,” Huggins said about a week after receiving his final treatment.

About a year ago, Huggins, music director for a rodeo his father, West, announces for, was diagnosed with two tumors, a major blastoma, a cancerous growth in a developing cell of a child or fetus, and a small penny-sized tumor on his back.

After undergoing two surgeries at Cook Children’s in Fort Worth and radiation therapy in Irving, the final step is chemotherapy, which will start in mid-May in Fort Worth.

“I got about a four-week break right now, and then I have four rounds of chemo. Each round lasts 28 days,” Huggins said. “A week for each round at Cook Children’s in Fort Worth.”

Dr. Victor Mangona has been at Texas Center for Proton Therapy since the facility opened.

“We’ve been treating for more than six years now, and it’s amazing that we’ve treated this many patients so far,” Dr. Mangona said. “I can’t believe it’s already been six years.

“There are thousands and thousands of patients [this facility has helped]. Each one of us [doctors] has treated probably a thousand patients each. That’s a lot of people, and from parents, siblings, children, co-workers, the extent of that magnitude can be quite substantial.”

Dr. Mangona treated Huggins.

“He’s a nice young man from a very nice family,” Dr. Mangona said. “They are from quite a distance away, but with the type of tumor he has, proton radiation therapy is the best treatment for him.

“His parents were willing to do what’s necessary. They came out here for treatment, and I’m glad he was able to get proton radiation, because it significantly decreased side effects during radiation and will
significantly decrease his long-term risk from radiation therapy as well.”

Proton therapy is a highly target- ed, precise form of radiation therapy where a machine called a cyclotron extracts protons from hydrogen atoms, accelerates them almost to the speed of light, and sends a pro- ton beam nearly 50 yards to destroy cancerous cells while doing minimal damage to neighboring healthy tissue.

Dr. Mangona was happy to see Huggins get through his radiation treatments with no issues.

“Especially for the type of treatment he required, this type of treatment with photon radiation is acutely more toxic and much more difficult to tolerate,” Dr. Mangona said. “He pretty much cruised right through treatment from beginning to end. We don’t usually see that when we’re doing a similar treatment with photon radiotherapy.”

The facility and its staff earned very high marks from Huggins and his mother.

“I liked all the therapists that would give me the treatment,” Hug- gins said. “They always had a good energy with me. Dr. Mangona always said I look good, and if some- thing was wrong, he would tell me. The receptionist, everybody over there was really nice, and I like that.”

Keri Huggins, Walker’s mother, gives everyone credit at Texas Center for Proton Therapy for helping make the process feel a less daunting.

“Going into it, it’s very over- whelming, but everyone there was super helpful,” Keri Huggins said. “Dr. Mangona and his nurse are wonderful. If I had a question, they would immediately answer it. They made a really scary process go very smoothly. We feel so very blessed we were able to go there.”

Huggins’ cancer has forced him to be away from working alongside his father at the rodeo as he underwent his surgeries and received treatment, but he hopes to return to his musical duties soon after finishing his final round of chemo.

“I pretty much grew up in rodeo. My dad’s the rodeo announcer,” Huggins said. “For a while, he was by himself running the music. When I was 12, I thought I’d like to do this, so dad taught me. I’ve been music director for about four years maybe. Pretty much everything you hear at a rodeo is coming from me-all the sound, all the speakers.”

Huggins is in Midland to build his strength before chemo. His mother is trying to fatten him up with “what- ever he wants” to eat during this four-week period.

Through his diagnosis, surgeries, and radiation treatment, Huggins has kept smiling and remains optimistic about his chances to put cancer in the rearview mirror.

“My faith in Jesus [sustains me],” Huggins said. “I know everything’s in God’s hands, and he has a plan for all of this stuff, so I’m not really worried about it. Right now, He’s with me.” His mother agrees.

“Our faith plays a major part in this,” Keri said. “We’re all so proud of Walker for being 16 and going through this. He still has that great attitude and that faith. He’s really never wavered from it.”

Dr. Mangona is glad to work at a facility to help patients like Huggins.

“We’re the first and only proton facility in North Texas that provides access to proton radiation for a lot more patients within a closer radius. That makes proton radio therapy something that more people have access to now,” Dr. Mangona said. “We’re fortunate we have this here for them.”

Read more in the Irving Rambler.