Angiosarcoma survivor aspires to become an oncologist
Michael Scott has always kept his support system in mind. That was true when he was diagnosed with angiosarcoma more than five years ago, and it remains true today as he pursues his dream of becoming an oncologist. He keeps a framed sheet of paper with names of friends, family, doctors and fellow patients, who kept him going through surgery, 19 rounds of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation therapy.
“There are a lot of people I met during my journey that I’m so grateful for,” Michael says. “They are my primary motivation to be the best oncologist I can be.”
Michael’s cancer story began in the summer of 2016, just before his junior year at Texas Tech University. He started developing severe pain in the lower part of his right leg. The pain was so severe that it woke him up in the middle of the night.
Michael’s mom, a physician assistant, encouraged him to get his leg checked out. A physician assistant at an urgent care center in Lubbock discovered a tumor in Michael’s leg. That led to an appointment with an orthopedist in Plano, Texas, who referred him to a musculoskeletal surgical oncologist in Dallas. An initial biopsy showed an aneurysmal bone cyst.
But in November, after Michael underwent bone graft surgery, another pathologist discovered he had epithelioid angiosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that forms in lymph or blood vessels. A local oncologist recommended he start chemotherapy.
Michael was in disbelief. “I had no idea what having cancer meant,” he says. “Everything came so quickly. Chemo started in a week and a half. I didn’t know what to do.”
Angiosarcoma experts focused on more than treating cancer
Michael moved back home to Dallas. He started chemotherapy in November with five days on and 15 days off. But because his cancer was so rare, Michael wanted a second opinion.
His mother called MD Anderson and got an appointment with Vinod Ravi, M.D., in January 2017. Even though Michael had already begun chemotherapy, Ravi was able to work on a treatment plan for him since angiosarcoma is so rare.
“Dr. Ravi was wonderful,” Michael says. “One of the first times I went to see Dr. Ravi, I had neutropenic fever, and my blood counts were low. MD Anderson was quick to say, ‘Come in. We’ve got everything taken care of.’” Michael especially admired how Dr. Ravi cared about him beyond his cancer diagnosis. Even at his follow-up visits, Dr. Ravi asks Michael about how he’s managing stress, getting exercise and scheduling time with friends.
“Despite the poor prognosis associated with angiosarcoma, Dr. Ravi was always positive about the diagnosis,” Michael says. “He wasn’t only concerned about treating the disease; he cared about the whole picture.”
During Michael’s first visit to MD Anderson, doctors discovered a blood clot in his right artery. He was put on anticoagulants and followed closely by an MD Anderson cardiologist.
His care team also included radiation therapy in his treatment plan under the care of Andrew Bishop, M.D. Michael started these treatments in December 2017, undergoing radiation therapy Monday to Friday for six weeks. Michael also booked several sessions with physical therapist Alex Penny during this time to get the most out of his treatments.
Choosing limb-salvage surgery with an endoprosthesis
In addition to chemotherapy and radiation, Michael needed surgery to remove the tumor in his leg. Orthopaedic surgeon Valerae Lewis, M.D., walked Michael through his options: limb-salvage surgery with an endoprosthesis, limb-salvage with a combination of prosthesis and cadaver bone, amputation or a rotationplasty. Lewis connected Michael with other patients who had these surgeries so he could get a wide range of perspectives on which one was right for him. Michael ultimately chose limb-salvage surgery with an endoprosthesis so he could keep his leg.
“It was an extremely challenging decision,” Michael says. “But Dr. Lewis is so insightful. She told me what to expect and was always fully confident in her ability and her team’s ability. Dr. Lewis’ assurance made it a smoother transition for me.”
Recovery after limb-salvage surgery
Michael stayed in the hospital for 17 days after his surgery. He underwent physical therapy and started standing exercises almost immediately. Eventually, he was able to walk upstairs and around the lobby.
However, even after surgery and regaining strength in his leg, Michael faced difficulties.
“The biggest challenge was overcoming the feeling that I was healthy at that point,” Michael says. “I had the surgery, and I understood that I had to do chemo, but it was so traumatic. I just wanted to be done.”
But Michael told his doctors he wanted to give 100% and continued his treatments. He even tried to get in a session of physical therapy during follow-up visits. He leaned on his support system, which included other young adult patients who had been through some of the same experiences. Michael completed his final round of radiation therapy in February 2018.
Getting back to school
After finishing treatment, Michael was anxious to get back to school. He returned to campus the summer of 2018. This time, he had a new perspective – and an interest in oncology.
Michael became involved on campus. He was named one of the Mortar Board Senior Honor Society top 50 seniors at the university going into his last semester. He was also asked to be the Honors College banner bearer for graduation.
But one of his proudest moments was his acceptance to Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine at The University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth.
Focus on the future
Because he chose limb-salvage surgery, Michael sometimes feels discomfort in his right leg. But he’s still able to do some many of the activities he enjoys, like hiking and camping.
He’s going into his second year of medical school and is the incoming president of his campus’ chapter of the Christian Medical Association, where he participates in mission trips, offering free clinics to underserved communities. He hopes to land an internal medicine residency that will help him reach his goal of becoming an oncologist.
Michael keeps these goals in mind while reminding himself of what he’s been through, why he continues to chase his dreams and who’s been there for him along the way.
“I try to focus on those core values, those takeaways from that journey,” Michael said. “I try to still appreciate my life as a gift that’s been given to me. I have to turn back and have this outlook, and I want to carry it forward.”