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Cancer Survivors' Stories: Reasons to Give

Conquest - Summer 2010

By DeDe DeStefano

On Feb. 18, MD Anderson launched the public phase of its $1 billion Campaign to Transform Cancer Care with a special event at the Hilton Americas-Houston. Included in the festivities were eight cancer survivors who, in sharing their stories, provided eight compelling reasons why this initiative is so important.

Diagnosed in Mexico at age 4, Jaime Ramirez had osteosarcoma that returned every two years for 17 years. His parents brought him to Houston when he was 7, then as a teenager, to MD Anderson. He survived 18 surgeries on his leg, often enduring hospital stays alone while his mother returned home to South Texas to care for his nine siblings. Since 1988, he has been cancer-free and an
MD Anderson employee. “They saved my life. So as long as I’m alive, I will be part of this team’s mission to end cancer,” he says.

Front row from left: Kay Rogers, MD Anderson President
John Mendelsohn, M.D., Nadia Jones, Jaime Ramirez, Jason
Connelly; back row: Nikita Robinson, Victoria Johnson,
campaign chair Harry Longwell, Kenneth Woo, Janice

A 38-year breast cancer survivor and 21-year colorectal cancer survivor, Kay Rogers has inspired others through 34 years of volunteer service at MD Anderson. She began the Ride for Life for Anderson Network’s annual patient conference, served 18 years on the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation’s Ride for Kids task force and supports the Harley’s Angels calendar fundraiser. She lost her daughter, Patricia Rahl, one year ago to endometrial cancer and honors her along with all those who did not conquer cancer, yet contributed greatly to the mission to eradicate it.

Victoria Johnson is a 12-year survivor of stage IV breast cancer with metastases to all major organs, including her brain. Although she had annual mammograms and precautionary ultrasounds, she was diagnosed with late-stage cancer and told elsewhere that she had little time to live. Searching for hope, she came to
MD Anderson where she has had seven brain tumors successfully removed. Passionate about enjoying each cherished day, she quotes her grandmother: “It’s time to use the good china. Enjoy life!”

An MD Anderson employee for five years, Nikita Robinson is a senior research coordinator in the Department of Health Disparities. She also is a four-year colon cancer survivor and member of the Employee Cancer Support Group. Within months of diagnosis, her mother was diagnosed with stomach cancer and her grandfather with pancreatic cancer. While neither survived, the insight she gained as a patient and employee enabled her to be there for them. “I’m a real survivor. And to honor them, I am doing this. I feel so honored to represent all the survivors at this institution,” she says.

Kenneth Woo is a 17-year Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor and a 6 1/2-year acute myelogenous leukemia and stem cell transplant survivor. A longtime volunteer with the Anderson Network, he chaired the organization’s 2009 steering committee and will chair its 2010 Cancer Survivorship Conference. Helping cancer patients and their caregivers is a priority in his life. Because of his experience, he, wife Clara and daughters Ashley and Kimberly have made the words “be a channel of blessings to others” their family motto.

Janice Duplessis is a 10-year breast cancer survivor and three-year metastatic cancer survivor. Soft-spoken and serene, she chaired Anderson Network’s 2007 annual patient conference while going through radiation treatments for brain metastasis. She adopted the conference theme, “Power of Hope,” to describe herself. “We who have cancer must believe in the power of hope. MD Anderson has given me hope for the strongest and longest survivorship.” Her husband, Rogers, established the “Lean on Me Caregivers Group” to support others who care for loved ones facing cancer, and she credits him with being her strength.

Nadia Jones may only be 5 years old, but she’s an experienced driver of a pint-sized pink power-wheels Ford Mustang, which she thoroughly enjoys. She is being treated for rhabdomyosarcoma in MD Anderson’s Children’s Cancer Hospital and just graduated from kindergarten in Richmond, Texas. Her mother, Brandie, says that despite the numerous obstacles Nadia has encountered since birth, she has always managed to maintain a positive outlook on life.

Diagnosed with stage IV melanoma in 2006, Jason Connelly has been a survivor for three years. He generously and passionately shares his story of diagnosis, intense treatment and survival, emphasizing the importance of philanthropic funds and their role in advancing the therapy that helped save his life. He was one of three cancer patients honored as Person of the Week on “ABC World News” in 2008. His adorable son, 5-year-old Jacob, is the joy of his life.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center