Rectal cancer survivor finds renewed hope at MD Anderson

A nagging pain at the end of Sam Markota’s digestive tract suddenly became unbearable during a business trip to Thailand. The then-55-year-old returned to the U.S. for his first colonoscopy. In April 2015, Sam learned that he had rectal cancer, and it had already spread to his liver and right lung.

“My first oncologist had me dead in a couple years,” Sam recalls. After undergoing chemotherapy, he and his wife sought a second opinion at MD Anderson in Katy, just minutes from their home.

Rectal cancer treatment at MD Anderson in Katy

“We haven’t looked back since,” Sam says. “Dr. Nikesh Jasani explained everything and developed a plan. Everything was done in a positive manner. There was no mention of you’ve got 3, 4, 5 years left.”

Sam resumed chemotherapy at MD Anderson in Katy and simultaneously received five-and-a-half weeks of radiation therapy. In September 2015, he underwent a liver resection with Yun Shin Chun, M.D.

“The tumor was almost right on top of a main vein in the liver, so it was a tricky surgery,” Sam says.

The following April, Craig Messick, M.D., performed a pelvic surgery, where he removed Sam’s entire rectum and connected his colon to his anal canal, and removed several lymph nodes.

Messick also performed a diverting loop ileostomy, a procedure that diverts one end of the small intestine from the colon through an incision in the abdominal wall to collect feces and allow healing.  Sam used the small intestine bag for six months until everything had fully healed and was off chemotherapy.

Bowel troubles won’t stop him from living

In early 2017, Sam had a partial lobectomy with Boris Sepesi, M.D. He showed no evidence for disease for three months, then three small spots – two on his lung and one on his liver – showed up on his follow-up CT scans.

“As Dr. Jasani explained, it’s just a low-grade cancer,” Sam says.

He’s undergoing more chemotherapy, and his tumors are shrinking. He’s been dealing with fatigue and sleep deprivation, but he’s still struggling to manage his bowel movements following the pelvic surgery.

“I basically don’t have a rectum, so I have to be very careful what I eat because I don’t have a lot of control,” he says. “That makes traveling really hard.”

Messick has put Sam on a fiber treatment plan. If it doesn’t work, Sam plans to undergo another procedure to get a permanent colostomy bag.

“Why make myself suffer? Right now I don’t travel, and that’s the thing I miss the most. My goal is eventually to start traveling around the world again,” says Sam, who now sees how precious every moment is.

 “Life doesn’t end because of a cancer diagnosis. This is a good time to take advantage of living.”

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