Patient’s Outlook Gives Oncologist Inspiration

When Ruben Vasquez opened his eyes in the middle of the night, he saw paramedics standing over him.

“My wife woke up because the bed was shaking and shaking,” says the 44-year-old father of two. “When she looked at me, my eyes had rolled back into my head.”

What might have seemed like a nightmare began to transform into scary, real-life events. For the first time in his life, Ruben had experienced a seizure. An MRI scan would reveal a brain tumor. Initially, physicians speculated it was benign, but after surgeons removed the lemon-sized growth from the right side of his head, it was determined to be cancer.

“It was a primary brain tumor called an Astrocytoma which can range from a low-grade tumor where people live for many years, to a high-grade tumor which can quickly progress in a matter of months,” says START Medical Oncologist, Dr. Lisa Fichtel. “Ruben’s was most likely a low grade tumor that was starting to transform to a higher grade.”

After surgery, the left side of Ruben’s body was paralyzed. He took a five-month hiatus from his work as a service coordinator for Halliburton Energy Services to recover. He would begin a cancer treatment of radiation and chemotherapy along with grueling physical therapy to learn how to walk again.

“I came home in a wheel chair, progressed to a walker, then a cane. Now I don’t use any of them to help me,” says Ruben. “Your family and your doctors make such a difference in your recovery. Every time I see Dr. Fichtel, she encourages me.”

Ruben was able to return to work, full-time, and continues to receive cancer treatment under the care of Dr. Fichtel and START staff.

“What’s remarkable is that Ruben has worked his way back from total paralysis on the left side ,” says Dr. Fichtel. “When someone handles a life-changing diagnosis this well, and they continue to be so positive…. they really are my hero.”

Dr. Lisa Fichtel has been a medical oncologist with the START Center for Cancer Care for more than 19 years. She received her medical degree from UT Southwestern and went on to complete her internship, residency, and fellowship at the Baylor University Medical Center. She is board certified in medical oncology, and her clinical interests include malignant brain tumors and breast cancer. Dr. Fichtel has three children and is involved in various causes, including Curtain Up Cancer Foundation.