Anaplastic thyroid cancer survivor: I wish I’d gone to MD Anderson first
Everything I have today, I owe to my voice. God granted me a wonderful singing voice at a very young age, and it served me well until I was almost 62. It allowed me to work in the music industry for my entire adult life. And it gave me the opportunity to perform around the world with one of America’s most iconic bands: The Beach Boys.
Three years ago, I underwent thyroid cancer surgery near my home in California. Nerve damage from that surgery paralyzed one of my vocal cords, effectively ending my singing career.
That’s why I’m using my voice today in a different way: to tell people about MD Anderson. Because if it wasn’t for their doctors, I wouldn’t still be here. And I might not have a voice at all.
Life-changing surgery, corrected diagnosis led me to MD Anderson
I came to MD Anderson after the first thyroid surgery changed my life. The realization that I wouldn’t be singing anymore was devastating. But the next bit of news my local doctor delivered was almost worse.
Biopsied tissue revealed that I actually had anaplastic thyroid cancer. And anaplastic thyroid cancer accounts for less than 1% of all thyroid cancer cases diagnosed annually. It’s very aggressive, and there’s no cure.
Unfortunately, my cancer was already fairly advanced. It hadn’t spread to my brain yet, but it had invaded a few of my bones. My local doctors didn’t think I had very long to live. But I wasn’t ready to give up.
Why I joined an immunotherapy clinical trial at MD Anderson
Once we knew I had anaplastic thyroid cancer, my wife and I started researching. The name that kept popping up over and over again was Dr. Maria Cabanillas, an MD Anderson endocrinologist who specializes in anaplastic thyroid cancer.
It turns out, Dr. Cabanillas was conducting a clinical trial with two colleagues — Dr. Naifa Busaidy and Dr. Ramona Dadu — on my exact type of cancer. I was convinced that clinical trial would give me the best possible chance of survival, so I wanted to be on it. Within a week, I was meeting with Dr. Busaidy.
After completing their own examinations and reviewing all of my records and scans, the doctors agreed that I’d be a good candidate for the clinical trial. I joined it right away and started receiving an infusion of an immunotherapy drug called atezolizumab every 14 days and taking two targeted therapy drugs called vemurafenib and cobimetinib in pill form.
Six months after I joined the clinical trial, Dr. Mark Zafereo performed a really complex surgery to remove the residual thyroid cancer from my neck and some nearby lymph nodes. It took 12 hours.
Thankful for my three ‘bonus’ years, and any more yet to come
It’s been more than three years now since I joined the clinical trial at MD Anderson. I’m not cancer-free, but most of the suspicious spots on my scans are now stable. So, I consider myself a walking miracle. Because I've survived much longer than my original doctor expected.
I may have lost my singing voice, but that gives me the opportunity now to be a voice for MD Anderson. Had I not lived these three precious “bonus” years, I would not have met my 7-month-old grandson, Domenic. And that’s why I am most grateful.
Join MD Anderson on Thursday, March 24 as we celebrate 80 years of Making Cancer History® with a special anniversary concert featuring musical guests The Beach Boys, Todd Rundgren, Christopher Cross, Generation Radio, the Commodores and more.