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People Profile: Processing and Philosophizing — A Recipe for One Patient’s Survival

Network - Summer 2007

Robert Dorsey might be called a Renaissance man of the 21st century.

A process technician who helps maintain a safe working environment at the NOVA Chemical plant in Bayport, Texas, he is given to quoting the French philosopher René Descartes and the English philosopher and economist David Hume to his colleagues.

Robert Dorsey used every resource he could from “juicing” to journaling during his cancer treatment.

Little wonder that when he graduated from the University of Houston-Clear Lake at the age of 52, he was named the 2002 Outstanding Undergraduate Student for the humanities department.

He had planned to finish his degree much earlier and, in fact, was in the middle of working his way through college in 1995 when he noticed a lump on his neck. Two biopsies later, he discovered he had Hodgkin’s disease, a type of lymphoma.

"I brought this to the attention of my supervisor at the plant and he told me to do whatever it took and not to worry about my job, just to concentrate on the cancer," Dorsey says. "I accepted early on that I had the cancer and prayed on it. Rather than looking on it as something to feel bad about, I looked on it as something to show my faith and that I could be an example of God’s good works."

But there were challenges. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments slowed him down. He finally went on disability and took an extended leave from college.

"In the midst of that, I started to lose my hair," he laughs. "So I decided to shave it all off. Decided I might as well get a new look. I tried new looks and different caps. I made it a happy walk. And my colleagues stayed in close contact with me, seeing how I was doing."

He also found myriad ways to keep quality in his life as his treatment progressed. With his recipe book, he made and drank a variety of juices, including carrot and asparagus. He watched the rest of his diet, visited M. D. Anderson’s chapel on each visit, used onsite computers to learn as much as possible about his cancer and what to do, enjoyed the volunteers who played the piano in the lobby and joined his church choir.

"I also kept a daily journal of what was going on and how I felt," he says. "I recommend that to anyone. If something was happening I wasn’t sure about, I wrote it down so I had a record and could give feedback to the doctor."

Dorsey continues as an inspiration and a reminder to his colleagues, urging them to get regular prostate examinations and colonoscopies.

"My experience is something I don’t mind talking about. I always tell people that we are blessed to have the best treatment center in our backyard when so many others have to come from so far."

Fortunately, Dorsey’s cancer has been in remission since the mid-1990s, so he continues his rotating shift work — 5 p.m.-5 a.m. and 5 a.m.-5 p.m. — providing steam, process water and air for the plant. He’s also a member of the rescue team and fire brigade, and he never missed a class when he was getting his degree.

"I just try to make sure I’m well-rested, eat decently and retain a certain amount of exercise," he says.

This is a formula that seems to work for this modern Renaissance man.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center