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'Poster Patient' for Adrenocortical Carcinoma

Conquest - Fall 2010

By Mary Jane Schier

Violinist Treesa Gold glows with good health and happiness.

“I feel incredible to have celebrated five years since my cancer surgery. I get to play Beethoven and Rachmaninoff for a living. I’m married to an amazing man … I know how precious life is,” she confides.

Treesa Gold enjoys life, including playing
violin in Virginia's Richmond Symphony
Orchestra. Photo: Rita Dowling

Gold, who started violin lessons at age 2, was performing with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra when she became ill and eventually was diagnosed with adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC), a rare, fast-growing cancer of the adrenal glands. On June 27, 2005, her left adrenal gland, containing a 13-centimeter tumor, and left kidney were removed.

By the time she arrived at
MD Anderson three weeks later, she was on an emotional roller coaster. Listening to Alexandria Phan, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology, outline limited options was like having her “dreams disappear.”

Phan says about 250 cases of ACC are diagnosed annually in the United States. Even after seemingly successful surgery, almost 80% of patients have recurrences — and a dismal prognosis.

“There’s been no new therapy for almost 40 years, and the best drug, mitotane, causes severe side effects,” explains Phan, who coordinates care at
MD Anderson for the nation’s largest group of ACC patients.

Before starting drug therapy, Gold and husband Matt returned to New Orleans. A few days later, Hurricane Katrina struck the city and destroyed their house. After evacuating to Kansas, she had her eggs harvested and processed, noting: “We now have 16 embryos frozen if we should need them.”

During two years on mitotane, Gold endured severe exhaustion, stomach cramps and memory loss. When her husband, who plays orchestral bass, was recruited to Viginia’s Richmond Symphony Orchestra in 2006, the couple moved there. Both Golds play for the orchestra and in the Prabir/Goldrush band that combines classical music with rock ‘n’ roll. She also teaches Suzuki violin.

Regular check-ups at MD Anderson show Gold remains cancer-free. Because so few patients enjoy long-term survival, Phan believes Gold is “a wonderful poster patient for ACC.”

MD Anderson is one of 16 centers participating in the first clinical trial of a new targeted drug, OST906, for ACC. Phan and colleagues also have developed an innovative staging for the disease.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center