Boston Med: Single Dad Struck with Rare Cancer

Single Dad Struck with Rare Cancer

On a spring day in March 2009, 29-year-old Ron Haynes' life would change forever.

Flying back to New Hampshire from a wedding in Michigan he experienced a complete black out while in his seat. His four-year-old son Benjamin was sitting next to him. The next thing Haynes would remember was waking up in a hospital in Cleveland not knowing where he was or how he got there.

"They had to pull me off of the plane and I woke up four days later," he said. "They asked me what year it was and I said 2008. I could barely remember going to the wedding at that point. It took a month for me to remember everything."

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While Haynes was recuperating, his parents flew in from Grand Rapids, Mich. to take care of young Benjamin.

On the plane, Haynes had a hyponatremic seizure, which can be caused by a mixture of excess water and low amounts of sodium in the blood. Five months prior to the airplane seizure, Haynes had been receiving treatment for low sodium levels. The causes, however, had remained unclear.

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Searching for an answer, Haynes returned to Nashua, N.H., where he lived and worked as a calibration technician. An exam by an ear, nose and throat specialist revealed a polyp -- an abnormal growth of tissue -- in his nose.

Two weeks later at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Dr. Derrick Lin performed a surgical biopsy on Haynes's nose. The biopsy revealed he had a very rare and malignant form of cancer in his olfactory cells called esthesioneuroblastoma.

Esthesioneuroblastoma affects nearly 4 out of 10 million individuals and accounts for about 5 percent of all sinonasal tumors. Researchers believe the cancer takes hold in the cells that line the nasal cavities and surfaces that govern our sense of smell. If left untreated, it can cause loss of sight and taste and can be fatal. The only treatment for this highly malignant cancer is surgery followed with radiation and chemotherapy.

With no history of cancer in his family and in great physical shape, Haynes was stunned to learn the news.

"I was eating very healthy, had quit smoking, very rarely drank. Worked out 4 days a week, ran 13 miles every week, then all of a sudden I get cancer, so it was kind of strange." Haynes said.

Treating Rare Nasal Cavity Cancer

Dr. William Curry, a neurosurgeon specializing in the treatment of malignant brain tumors at Massachusetts General Hospital performed Haynes's surgery.

"Even though the cancer's in your sinuses, it grows up into your brain. It happens to be the type of tumor that if we can get all the cancer cells out, and follow with radiation, as a standard, a lot of these cases we can cure," Curry said.

According to Curry, the best prognosis in the surgical treatment of esthesioneuroblastoma, is aggressively treating the tumor by making sure you've removed all of it.

If not removed properly, "this tumor can track back along those areas and return." Curry said.

Working closely with a team of ear, nose and throat surgeons, Curry's surgical plan for Haynes was a "craniofacial resection." During surgery, Curry would need to entirely take apart Haynes's head and face, remove the tumor, and then put his face back together.

"It's amazing, if the patients ever saw a picture of themselves during this operation or what this operation looks like, I think they'd be horrified. I can't even imagine what it would be like. And I'm a surgeon." Curry said.

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