The mask that could save this cancer patient’s life

Carlos Sanjuan from Washington, who is suffering from a rare brain tumour.
Carlos Sanjuan from Washington, who is suffering from a rare brain tumour.
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A WASHINGTON man who won a cancer battle when he was a baby is now facing a fresh fight for life.

Carlos Sanjuan was 13 months old when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, but after getting radiotherapy treatment, was in remission by the time he was three.

Carlos San Juan (left) with his brother-in-law Lee Bell before the headshave.

Carlos San Juan (left) with his brother-in-law Lee Bell before the headshave.

But last October, doctors found a new tumour wrapped around Carlos’s optic nerve after he had an eye test following a series of mini-seizures.

Now 35, he has been told him the tumour could have been growing for up to 30 years.

The Nissan worker, who lives with wife Natalie, 32, in Usworth, began to have problems with his right eye last September.

He said: “I didn’t tell anyone about it, but then it happened six times in one day and I started to panic.

“I work for Nissan and it happened on the line and when I was driving.

“I never mentioned it to my wife and my mum and when I did, they got worried due to my past history.”

Carlos went to see an optician, who sent him straight to Sunderland Eye Infirmary for tests.

He was then admitted to Sunderland Royal Hospital on October 17 where he was sent for an urgent MRI scan. He added: “They said ‘unfortunately you have a lesion on your brain, one of the biggest we’ve ever seen’.”

Carlos was told he had a meningioma, the type of tumour that commonly affects older women and can grow for many years.

He has been told it is the type of tumour which could have been caused by his previous radiotherapy.

Carlos added: “Without the radiotherapy and chemotherapy I had as a baby, I wouldn’t have gone into remission and the cancer would have spread.

“I’m alive now because of the treatment I had then.”

Carlos, who is now blind in one eye, had a tricky 14-hour operation to free the new tumour from his optic nerve, and surgeons are pleased with the results.

He was told radiotherapy would be too risky this time, and he might lose the sight in his other eye. Instead he had another operation, this time lasting six hours, to remove more of the tumour.

Now, as a last-ditch attempt, he is having TomoTherapy, which sees part of the tumour targeted each time, five days a week at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital.

The treatment is due to finish next week and Carlos will then have an MRI scan to find out if it has worked.

If it has been successful, it could give him a reprieve for two to five years before the tumour grows back.

He said: “It’s incurable. The treatment has to work. I’m doing really well, but like my consultant said, ‘Carlos this is your life now. We are going to be friends for a very long time’.”

To raise money for research into the cancer, his wife’s brother Lee Bell, 28, decided to shave his head for the Brain Tumour Charity at an event at the Cherry Tree pub in Ayton.

So far it has raised almost £3,000, with donations still coming in.

“He’s like a brother really,” said dad-of-one Lee, who lives in Lambton with wife Shona and one-year-old son Oscar.

“I made a promise that as soon as his hair comes off, my hair comes off.”

To donate, visit Lee’s Just Giving page at

Mask for treatment:

CANCER Research UK say meningiomas are more common in people who have had radiotherapy previously, while those who have had cancer as a child have a higher risk of developing a brain tumour later in life.

A spokeswoman for the charity said: “Although rare, second cancers can occur as a result of radiotherapy, but the individual risk is low and far outweighed by the benefit of treatment.”

Carlos is now having his final bout of TomoTherapy – high-precision radiation using a custom-built mask to target specific areas of the head. The treatment is often used when a tumour is wrapped around a vulnerable structure like the spinal cord, major organ or optic nerve.

It treats the tumour slice by slice while keeping the surrounding, healthy tissue safe In Carlos’s case, it means the treatment won’t affect his good eye.

He wears the mask to lie on a table that slowly slides through the doughnut-shaped machine which spirals around him, delivering many small beams of radiation at the tumour from different angles.