How I turned my kidney and brain cancer diagnoses into something meaningful

When I was diagnosed with kidney cancer at age 29, I thought I had a life-changing story to tell. I was enjoying a great career and my young, growing family in Austin, Texas. When my doctor called and said I had a very large mass, I didn’t even know what that meant. I traveled to MD Anderson in Houston, where Dr. Surena Matin removed a butternut squash-sized tumor from my kidney, leaving me with a big scar on my abdomen. Four months later, I got back to work. Little did I know, that was only the beginning of a wild and unexpected ride. My second cancer diagnosis: brain cancer Two years later, I was talking with some co-workers after a meeting. As we headed out, I turned to visit the coffee station. Just as I got my refill, my coffee cup dropped out of my hand, and I was completely frozen. I couldn’t move. Everyone was staring at me, confused. So was I. After a few moments, it passed, and I brushed it off. Two days later, a good friend, who happened to be a doctor, told me to come in for a brain MRI as a precaution. “Let’s rule out the worst,” he said. Unfortunately, it was what he feared: I had brain cancer. As we later learned, it was grade III oligodendroglioma, a primary brain tumor completely unrelated to my previous kidney cancer.   Brain cancer is a long battle I went back to MD Anderson, where neurosurgeon Dr. Sujit Prabhu worked his magic. I remember the awake craniotomy surgery like it was yesterday. When I woke...

Ovarian cancer survivor: How I’ve managed stage IV cancer for 10 years

After my first ovarian cancer recurrence in January 2009, I figured longevity was probably not in the cards for me. Because once stage III cancer returns, you’re automatically at stage IV. So, I was expecting to live maybe two or three more years. Yet here I am, more than 10 years later. And that’s almost entirely due to MD Anderson. As it turns out, you can sometimes live quite a while with stage IV ovarian cancer. I treat it just like any other chronic disease, such as diabetes or hypertension. Whenever some new issue crops up, my doctors and I deal with it. Otherwise, I just live my life. My ovarian cancer diagnosis I found out I had ovarian cancer when I was 63, during a routine physical. I didn’t realize I’d been showing any symptoms. But I was seeing a new primary care physician for the first time, and his initial exam was more thorough than my previous doctor’s. My new doctor thought my stomach looked a little swollen and felt all around my abdomen. He asked if I’d had alternating diarrhea and constipation for several weeks. I had, but really hadn’t given it much thought. The doctor ordered a CT scan. By the time I got home, my phone was already ringing. He said that the scan results were worrisome, and he wanted me to undergo more tests. When those results came back, I learned that I had stage III ovarian cancer. My initial ovarian cancer treatment Up until that moment, I thought I was in the best shape of my life. I’d been exercising daily and...

Personalized acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment let me stay true to my faith

When I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia — a type of blood cancer — I knew that my case was going to be a tough one. As one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I am not willing to accept whole blood products, and acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment sometimes includes red blood cell/platelet transfusions and/or stem cell transplants. Compromising my faith has never been an option, so one of my first concerns was finding a hospital that would respect my wishes. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a fast-growing, aggressive form of cancer, so I also knew I needed to act quickly. I wanted the best and most innovative care possible, and I knew I would get that at MD Anderson. Thanks to MD Anderson’s leukemia doctors and their willingness to be creative, I’m now in remission — and the bloodless protocol they developed for me is already helping other patients. My personalized acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment As I understand it, conventional acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment works by destroying a patient’s rogue marrow and blood cells with chemotherapy — a process that ends up killing many of their healthy blood and marrow cells, too. Often, patients receive blood transfusions until their own bone marrow can replenish itself with normal cells. But because I don’t accept blood transfusions, that plan wasn’t going to work for me. So my doctors had to formulate a new one that would kill the cancer without taking me with it. They started by prescribing IV steroids to get my white blood cell count down and red blood cell and platelet growth factors to help my body generate new blood...

Leukemia diagnosis gives basketball player Andrew Jones a new perspective

Andrew Jones was a rising star on The University of Texas men's basketball team in late 2017, when he started experiencing flu-like symptoms. Thinking it was just a virus, the sophomore guard pushed himself to keep playing until a broken wrist finally forced him onto the sidelines. But the symptoms persisted, even after Andrew’s wrist healed and he’d returned to the basketball court. “I just thought I had the flu,” Andrew — now preparing for his senior year — explains. “But when I tried to come back, I was still having trouble. I started having headaches, dizziness and trouble breathing. I was also coughing up blood and had a fast heartbeat.” A trip to the doctor in January 2018 revealed it was more than a virus. Andrew had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. “That was so shocking,” he says. “I’d just turned 20, and none of my relatives had ever had cancer.” Andrew’s acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment Andrew came to MD Anderson, where he began receiving the drugs ponatinib and blinatumomab under the care of Elias Jabbour, M.D. That chemotherapy combination put Andrew in remission within a month, but he has continued to take those medications to ensure that the cancer is gone. Andrew will get his last IV infusion of blinatumomab in August 2019, but will continue taking one ponatinib pill a day for at least the next five years. In the meantime, he’s not letting his acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment slow him down. “I only played a few more games last year before redshirting for the season so I could rest,” he says. “But I started playing again last...

Why I’m grateful for Texas’ Tobacco 21 legislation

I first became aware of MD Anderson when my dear friend, James Ragan, of blessed memory, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at the age of 13. James and his family lived two doors down from us in Corpus Christi, and I watched them battle osteosarcoma with a bravery and optimism that is simply indescribable. Through James and his parents, I began to learn of the extraordinarily impactful research and clinical care provided at MD Anderson. I also became much more sensitive to the plight of young cancer patients. Then, my father-in-law, George Gilbert, fought melanoma for several years with the help of MD Anderson. We were very close, and I admired him a great deal. His cancer ultimately got the best of him, but I know that MD Anderson made every weapon available to him during his courageous battle, and they brought a level of patient-centered care and compassion for which I will forever be grateful. After joining the Board of Visitors, my business partner of 25 years, Chip Bonner, was diagnosed with glioblastoma and once again, MD Anderson provided incredible care throughout Chip’s journey, and my appreciation will be there for the rest of my life.  Learning about the dangers of tobacco After seeing cancer claim several of my loved ones, I’ve committed myself to helping MD Anderson advance its mission to end cancer as a member of its Board of Visitors.  This is how I learned of the incredible potential of cancer prevention to make a difference – particularly avoiding tobacco use. Through my conversations with MD Anderson’s leaders, I learned that there wasn’t a single action that...