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Among Friends

Donor Wages Personal Battle Against Lung Cancer

Promise - Summer 2009

by Sarah Watson

Jeff Wigbels and wife Tiffany, together with children Jack and Ava, savor life as he benefits from an individualized approach to treating his Stage IV lung cancer. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey L. Wigbels

Jeffrey L. Wigbels has lung cancer. But thanks to a collaborative, personalized approach to patient care and research at M. D. Anderson, the senior vice president for wealth management at Smith Barney in Atlanta describes himself as just about the luckiest guy in the world.

Wigbels credits his doctor, Roy S. Herbst, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Thoracic/Head and Neck Medical Oncology and co-principal investigator of an innovative set of clinical trials called BATTLE (Biomarker-based Approaches of Targeted Therapy for Lung Cancer Elimination), for keeping his cancer at bay.

In the summer of 2006, however, Wigbels was feeling far from lucky. On the day before the birth of his second child, he received the devastating diagnosis of adenocarcinoma non-small cell lung cancer. Anticipation and joy turned into shock as Wigbels sensed his world suddenly falling apart.

Wigbels recalls thinking, “This can’t happen to me.” A nonsmoker and long-distance endurance athlete, he was otherwise in top condition and had no family history of cancer. He and wife Tiffany had a two-year-old daughter, Ava, and they were expecting son Jack via a planned Caesarean section within 24 hours.

Wigbels kept the news to himself that day, a Friday, weighing the implications on his life and the future of his growing family through a haze of conflicting emotions.

On Saturday, he continued to wrestle, mentally and physically, with all that it means to have cancer as he helped his wife deliver their son.

On Sunday, Wigbels found the words to tell her.

The following week was a whirlwind of medical appointments and tests. When an Atlanta-area oncologist suggested a regimen of “heavy” radiation immediately followed by chemotherapy, Wigbels questioned the standard of care he was being offered. He sought a second opinion — and a more individualized approach — at M. D. Anderson.

In Houston, Wigbels learned more about his condition — nonsmoker’s cancer, Stage IV, with metastasis to the abdomen and chest wall. He met with Herbst and James D. Cox, M.D., head of the Division of Radiation Oncology. Wigbels carried along a photograph of his two babies — his reason for seeking the best care available.

“I’m an analyst, a planner, by trade,” he says. “I was going to find the best.”

Wigbels’ initial treatment was a combination of chemotherapy and the drug Avastin®. Later Herbst identified Wigbels as a candidate for one of the BATTLE clinical trials, which are designed to improve the choice of therapy for each patient by matching drugs to the molecular aspects of his or her tumor.

Wigbels remains under Herbst’s care, though currently not as a part of the study, and goes about his life.

“I have the chance to live many more years because of the knowledge and expertise of my doctor,” says Wigbels, who recently established a fund to support Herbst’s research. “The more he can learn about biomarkers, the more everybody can benefit.”

This is a story for everyone with cancer, not just those with lung cancer, he says, holding a photograph of Ava and Jack playing outside on a sunny day.

Promise - Summer 2009

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center