An immunotherapy clinical trial stabilized my disease

If you break your leg, you’re not going to go to a heart surgeon. So if you have cancer, why wouldn’t you go to a world-renowned cancer hospital? MD Anderson is the best place on the planet for treating cancer. That’s why I went there first when I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at age 55 in September 2016. My lung cancer was already so advanced that Dr. Bonnie Glisson told me at the very beginning that I couldn’t be cured. But I could absolutely be treated. And that’s all I needed to hear. Because if you give me a little piece of positive, I’m going to run with it. My lung cancer diagnosis My first lung cancer symptom was severe back pain. I thought I’d pulled a muscle, so I went to my regular doctor. He took an X-ray, but didn’t notice anything unusual. He prescribed muscle relaxers and an over-the-counter pain medicine. When the pain didn’t go away and started getting worse, I decided maybe it was an ulcer. I have a history of stomach problems, so I went to see my gastroenterologist. She did a CT scan and discovered a mass on my left adrenal gland. Nobody ever goes to the doctor and says, “My adrenal gland hurts.” So, most of the time, a tumor in that area comes from someplace else. In my case, it was a large lesion on my right lung. I had stage IV adenocarcinoma, a type of lung cancer. Why I sought lung cancer treatment at MD Anderson I’m originally from Houston, so I knew about MD Anderson’s reputation....

Staying positive in the face of uncertainty

Before I was diagnosed with stage III melanoma in August 2017, I used sunscreen the way I think a lot of people do: I applied it once whenever I went to the pool or beach, and then I’d sweat it all off and end up getting burned. I also played hundreds of rounds of golf over the years, but never once thought about applying sunscreen. I’m a pretty outdoorsy guy and I grew up playing sports. So, it’s hard for me to limit my time outside. But the scar from my surgery is on my right forearm, and I can’t take a swing now without thinking about what I’m doing to stay cancer-free. So I wear a lot of hats and long-sleeve T-shirts. I apply sunscreen most days. And when I play golf, I reapply sunscreen before the round and at the turn. The importance of regular skin exams I’ve always tended to be pretty freckly, so I’ve gotten regular skin exams since I was a kid. Growing up, my mom made the appointments for me. After college, I kind of let them lapse. Still, the mole that turned out to be melanoma hadn’t been there eight months before when I finally went in for my regular exam, so it must have grown and spread pretty rapidly. There really wasn’t much to it. And there’s not any one bad burn I can point to that might have caused it. Even my dermatologist wasn’t too concerned. But she shaved off part of it and sent it in for a biopsy. Deciding what to do after my melanoma diagnosis When my...

Why I’m thankful for MD Anderson in The Woodlands

I am thankful for MD Anderson for so many reasons. After I had anal cancer surgery in November 2017, I went to MD Anderson in The Woodlands for follow-up treatment. Easy access anal cancer treatment My oncologist, Dr. Douglas Nelson, said I needed four months of simultaneous chemotherapy and radiation therapy for my anal cancer treatment. I was relieved to know I could continue to come to MD Anderson in The Woodlands for my post-surgery therapy.  I was 72 at the time, and only my older brother was available to drive me to my appointments. We couldn’t have managed the two-hour drive to MD Anderson’s Texas Medical Center Campus from my home in Onalaska, Texas, five days a week for four months. MD Anderson in The Woodlands was significantly closer, making it much easier for me to get to and from my appointments. Finding peace of mind – and support through side effects When I started chemo and radiation therapy, I had a lot of questions about my treatment. I was very fortunate to have a care team that explained every step of the process; this took a lot of worry off my mind.  I didn’t have to wonder why something was being done; the care team kept me abreast of every aspect of my treatment, explaining every detail with compassion, humor and kindness. They reassured me, which alleviated much of the fear I had before beginning chemo and radiation therapy.  When the side effects of radiation therapy started to take their toll, the staff did everything they could to help me. The location of my cancer made it...

How MD Anderson exceeded my expectations

When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in November 2017, my first thought was that I had to get to MD Anderson. I’d long been aware of its global reputation, so I knew I would get the best possible treatment there. What I didn’t expect was the care I received along with it — and I mean, from everyone: the doctors, the nurses, the physician assistants, and especially, my radiation oncologist, Dr. Jillian Gunther. My Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis My Hodgkin’s lymphoma symptoms started with what I thought was a common cold. But the cough never really went away, so I kept visiting our family physician and trying out different medications. None of them worked. Eventually, he ordered a chest X-ray. The radiologist saw a mass in my chest, along with fluid around my lungs. My doctor ordered a CT scan. That’s when I learned I had a 6.5-inch tumor around my heart and several enlarged lymph nodes in my neck. My doctor sent me to a pulmonologist to determine next steps. That specialist sent me immediately for a lung biopsy. We waited three long days for the results, but they were inconclusive. My doctor ordered a second biopsy of my lymph nodes. This one came back positive. I had stage III Hodgkin’s lymphoma. My first treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma For me, a cancer diagnosis was really unexpected. I’ve never smoked or drunk alcohol. And I’m a runner who was jogging up to five miles a day, three times a week. So while I was happy to finally have an explanation for why I felt so bad, I was also...

Head and neck surgeon Michael Kupferman, M.D., shares what drives his work to end cancer here and beyond

Michael Kupferman, M.D., first came to MD Anderson in 2004 as a young head and neck surgeon. Today, he continues to perform surgeries, while also helping bring MD Anderson’s expertise to other communities across the country and around the world, as the senior vice president for clinical and academic network development. We interviewed him recently to find out more: who inspires him, how he deals with stress and what he hopes to accomplish in his current role. What word best describes you? Inquisitive. What brought you to MD Anderson? I was recruited by Randy Weber, M.D., as a fellow in Head and Neck Surgery. I met Dr. Weber when he was on staff at Penn (The University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine) and I was a third-year medical student. He’s been my mentor and friend since then. What’s your biggest challenge? Communicating the achievements of our MD Anderson Cancer Network® domestically and internationally. What do you want patients to know about the MD Anderson Cancer Network? The MD Anderson Cancer Network® advances our mission of ending cancer through collaborations with community hospitals and health systems to improve the quality of care nationwide. The network provides members with services ranging from quality assurance and best practice guidelines to full clinical integration. The network has successfully brought the “magic” and expertise of MD Anderson to other communities, improving the care of patients with cancer across the country. Internationally, our institution has had a remarkable impact on low-resource environments through novel educational, cancer screening and prevention programs. Where do you see the network in the next five (or 10) years? I...