Cancer of the unknown primary survivor: MD Anderson came up with the right treatment for me
In early 2020, I started experiencing front-facing falls. I didn’t have any other symptoms, though, so I didn’t think much of it. That is, until one day I noticed I had a foot drop. My left foot was dragging on the ground when I would walk.
I made an appointment with a neurologist in my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. An MRI showed several enlarged lymph nodes. My original prognosis was a 12- to 13-month survival. I made an appointment at MD Anderson right away.
My stage IV adenocarcinoma of unknown origin diagnosis
That was in March, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, so we drove to Houston for my first appointments. I was lucky to have had the cream of the crop care team, led by Kanwal Raghav, M.D. Everyone treated me like I was their only patient.
Dr. Raghav reviewed my case with his team, and I was diagnosed with stage IV adenocarcinoma of unknown origin with metastasis to the lymph nodes in the lung and abdomen. When Dr. Raghav delivered the news to me, he made me feel like there was a solution. This immediately put me at ease. I looked forward to starting treatment.
As Dr. Raghav told me, treating patients with cancer of the unknown primary (CUP) can be very challenging. Cancer of the unknown primary requires a personalized multidisciplinary approach due to both the complexity of the disease and factors. At MD Anderson, treatment is unique and tailored to the needs of each individual patient.
Because I previously had a heart attack and also had diabetes and thyroid problems, my care team worked to weigh all of my health conditions when determining my treatment. I met with nephrologist Sheldon Chen, M.D., to ensure I didn’t have any issues with my kidney function. I also met with endocrinologist Victor Lavis, M.D., who adjusted and helped me with my thyroid medication.
Finding personalized treatment for cancer of the unknown primary (CUP)
On March 14, I started chemotherapy. But after one round of gemcitabine and a blood transfusion, my body did not tolerate the chemotherapy well. My doctors discussed my case and recommended proton therapy to treatmy chest and abdomen region under the care of radiation oncologist Prajnan Das M.D. Since the origin of the cancer was unknown, he would aim radiation toward all the lymph nodes with metastasis.
Dr. Das explained that in my case, proton therapy was being used to deliver a high dose of radiation to all the involved areas, while sparing normal structures, including my lungs, heart, bowel and kidneys.
My proton therapy treatment
I started proton therapy on June 1. I received one treatment per day for three weeks, for a total of 15 treatments. My doctors and the staff at MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center always kept me hopeful. I did not experience any skin irritations from the radiation. I did experience fatigue during treatment, but that may have been due to my overall health and age.
During my stay in Houston, I was able to really enjoy quality time with my family. And I’d like to think I had the best personal driver to and from my treatments, my son, MD Anderson’s Steven Frank, M.D.
I was able to return home to Atlanta after my last proton therapy treatment on June 22.
Gratitude for MD Anderson
In my mind, there is only one place to receive cancer treatment. I’m thankful MD Anderson came up with a treatment plan tailored for my specific cancer. I have a good quality of life now and am excited to have my cancer under control.
My advice to those newly diagnosed and unsure of what to do is to get to MD Anderson as fast as you can. Don’t wait.