Bladder cancer survivor: Why I fly 3,200 miles for an immunotherapy clinical trial

Looking back, I wish I’d asked more questions when I was first diagnosed with bladder cancer in July 2010. I have plasmacytoid urothelial carcinoma, a rare and very aggressive type of bladder cancer that spreads through the blood. But because my local doctors didn’t know that at the time, it led to not just one, but four separate recurrences — despite the tumor being entirely within my bladder and having my bladder surgically removed as a first line of treatment. Eventually, the cancer spread to my large intestine (Dec. 2011), both lungs (Oct. 2012 and April 2013), and underneath my right kidney (Oct. 2013). As a result, I also had part of my colon surgically removed, so I’ll have a second bag that collects stool outside my body for the rest of my life. My wife and I decided to get an opinion from a larger cancer hospital, so I went to MD Anderson the first time the cancer returned. I received chemotherapy twice and gene therapy twice, and showed some improvement. Since joining an immunotherapy clinical trial under Dr. Padmanee Sharma in June 2014, my fifth tumor dissolved and I have shown no evidence of disease. Why I joined an immunotherapy clinical trial Cancer is a nasty disease. But MD Anderson researchers have made huge strides against it. In fact, research is what led to the development of nivolumab, the immunotherapy drug I’m on right now. It wasn’t available when I was first diagnosed, but a patient who’s diagnosed today might be able to avoid surgery entirely because of it. I quickly chose clinical trials for the opportunity...