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USC doctors help island mayor fight cancer

On Monday, March 18, 2013, Tobias Aldan (right), mayor of the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean, speaks with doctors at Keck Medical Center of USC, who are treating him for a rare, small cell cancer of the sinus.

March 18, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Tobias Aldan is getting stronger each day and closer to getting back to his home in Saipan.

Aldan is the mayor of the Northern Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean. When he couldn't get out of bed last September, even the best doctors there couldn't figure out what was wrong. A CT scan turned up nothing unusual.

His daughter, Jocelyn Kapileo, took him to Guam, where specialists made a grim discovery: a rare, small cell cancer of the sinus.

Doctors say without any treatment, the cancer would have been fatal within a period of months.

They made a recommendation that rocked Aldan's entire family. They suggested he travel to Keck Medical Center of USC for treatment.

The tumor invaded Aldan's sinus cavity. When he arrived to Keck, he could hardly breath, swallow or even open his right eye.

"Because of the location of the tumor, a very experienced surgeon is necessary," said Keck's Dr. Stephen Liu.

The entire operation was done through the nostrils.

"We took out whatever was safely resectable and the rest we left to radiation and chemotherapy," said Keck's Dr. Gabriel Zada.

Aldan required high doses of radiation and chemotherapy at the same time. Nourishment came through a feeding tube.

The family didn't know anyone in Southern California, so they stayed at a nearby motel.

Back home, Tobias is well known for helping people in need, so the community rallied around their ailing "Island Uncle."

"They do some fundraising back home. What they do is, they cook some food up for lunch, they sell hot lunches," said Kevin Kapileo, Aldan's son-in-law.

The latest scans show the cancer is gone. While the family credits the care at USC, the staff credits his family.

"Their care for him, their devotion to him, has really been moving," Liu said. "They have hardly left his side."

The family will stay together as Aldan is freed to go home later this week.