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Navigating a life with cancer

Promise - Summer 2012

Survivor stays on course by spreading information, awareness

By Johnny Rigg

Each year, Hal Wolff visits his family doctor for regular checkups, treating allergies and monitoring blood pressure. After he turned 50 in 2005, however, the Houston lawyer scheduled a physical that proved far from routine.

“My doctor called to say my blood test showed high PSA (prostate-specific antigens) levels,” says Wolff, a senior partner with Hoover Slovacek LLP, where he focuses on commercial litigation, real estate and employment law. “I didn’t understand its severity at the time.”

Hal and Carol Wolff revisit the Mays Clinic location
at MD Anderson where a chance meeting with an 
old friend made them feel right at home.
Photo by John Everett

A second test confirmed elevated PSA. A few weeks later, doctors discovered three tumors in Wolff’s prostate.

As he surveyed his treatment options, Wolff spoke with multiple doctors, specialists and friends. He decided that, because of his good health and young age, surgery was his best course of action, and that it should take place at 
MD Anderson.

“The institution came highly recommended to me by a trusted former business partner whose father was a medical doctor in Houston,” Wolff says. “I took this in good faith and never looked back."

Wolff had been under the misconception that “MD Anderson was more for secondary treatment and more serious cases.”

“I’ve since learned that it should be the first stop for anyone faced with cancer,” he says.

Back in 2006, Wolff and his wife, Carol, came to MD Anderson with little knowledge of the institution’s resources, its mission or its campus. The couple found themselves overwhelmed and lost, wandering through the Lowry and Peggy Mays Clinic on the way to his first appointment.

“We came up from the parking garage and were walking through the corridor,” Wolff says. “I saw a man standing near the end of the hall and could tell he was going to ask us if we needed help."

Wolff avoided eye contact with the stranger as they passed the facility’s landmark Tree Sculpture.

“But as we approached the man he said, ‘Hal?’ ”

Surprised, Wolff turned to see a familiar face from his past.

Fernando Yarrito, a senior director in MD Anderson’s Development Office and an old friend of Wolff from their days at Texas Lutheran College, now Texas Lutheran University (TLU), was finishing up his monthly shift as a volunteer greeter that day.

It had been several years since they’d seen each other, and this chance meeting, this show of friendliness, eased Wolff’s apprehension.

“Fernando was there in the beginning,” Wolff says. “He saw me after surgery and during follow-up visits. A much closer relationship developed after this serendipitous event.”

Wolff says his relationship with MD Anderson is one of “growth.”

“You sense a team atmosphere,” he says. “You feel that everyone’s there for the same purpose and has the same goals.”

Wolff is passionate about spreading cancer awareness from a patient’s perspective.

“I’m one of the information givers now, and I try to give sound advice to men in a similar situation,” he says.

Wolff also serves on the TLU Corporation Board, is the vice president of the TLU Alumni Board of Directors and is a member of the Houston Bar Association Speaker’s Bureau.

“Everything I’ve learned is from my cancer experience,” Wolff says. “In addition to being cancer free, I live a much healthier lifestyle. I’m certain a lot of my understanding of the importance of positive health was achieved through my time at MD Anderson.”

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center