November 16, 2022
Finding care and compassion at MD Anderson through multiple cancer diagnoses
BY Sandy Goss
I always thought my husband would be the last one to receive a cancer diagnosis.
Bill had always been very athletic and proactive about his health. Then, in 2008, at age 57, he found a lump under his left arm while taking a shower. As a nurse, I knew this hard, immovable lump was more than just a cyst. A biopsy revealed Bill had metastatic melanoma, with the original site unknown.
We immediately chose MD Anderson for treatment because it was No. 1 in the nation for cancer care. We quickly found out firsthand that the level of care that MD Anderson provided was the gold standard.
Finding compassion from the very start
We never knew if the person helping us in our anxious search around the hospital was a surgeon, nurse or housekeeper. We knew it did not matter. They were all a dedicated and loyal team on our side.
I will never forget our first appointment at the Melanoma and Skin Center with Dr. Nicholas Papadopoulos. Dr. Papadopoulos, or “Dr. Papa” as he let us call him, walked into our room and knew all about us. We never felt rushed asking questions. In a gentle voice, he explained similar cases that had successful outcomes. Our fear quickly turned into hope.
Dr. Papadopoulos put together a care team to determine Bill’s treatment plan. We felt reassured knowing that a team of experts had discussed his case. Bill’s treatment plan included surgery, radiation therapy and a one-year immunotherapy protocol on a clinical trial.
Because we lived three hours from Houston, our care team helped us set up some of Bill’s treatment locally so neither of us would have to miss too much work. It is these small details that set MD Anderson apart.
The day of Bill’s surgery, I sat in the waiting room with patients and families from all over the world. I realized we were there for the same reason. Our eyes made connections to our hearts, and it felt like a blessing. It gave me a much-needed life boost.
A skin cancer diagnosis, then leukemia and a stem cell transplant
In 2013, Bill was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the skin on his left arm. Dr. Valencia Thomas performed Mohs surgery to remove the cancer. Bill also received another round of radiation therapy. Then during a follow-up appointment in 2015, Bill’s care team noticed abnormalities in his bloodwork. His bone marrow was not producing enough healthy blood cells.
We were referred to MD Anderson’s Leukemia Center, where Bill was diagnosed with chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML) and myelodysplastic syndrome.
Under the care of Dr. Amin Alousi, Bill received high-dose chemotherapy to prepare for a stem cell transplant. Because a full match could not be found, Bill’s care team decided to perform a half-match stem cell transplant using stem cells from Bill’s son.
Within a year, Bill was back to normal. But in 2016, he had another squamous cell carcinoma recurrence. This time he received a round of radiation therapy on the right side of his face and neck under the care of radiation oncologist Dr. David Fuller.
Prostate cancer diagnosis leads to proton therapy
At Bill’s post-transplant follow-up appointment in 2017, Dr. Alousi ordered a routine prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test to screen for prostate cancer. When Bill’s PSA levels came back above normal, we were referred to urologist Dr. William Graber. He diagnosed Bill with early-stage prostate cancer and placed him on active surveillance due to his previous cancer treatment.
That changed in October 2021, when we learned the cancer had progressed. Bill would need surgery or radiation therapy. Because Bill had a history of strokes, it was not safe for him to be off blood thinners for surgery, so proton therapy was the safest choice.
Bill completed 39 proton therapy treatments in combination with hormone therapy under the care of Dr. Karen Hoffman. Other than fatigue and some urinary frequency, he did not have side effects.
We saw a sign at the Proton Therapy Center about the ProtonPals patient support group. We joined to connect with other patients for dinner once a week. This experience helped us stay positive. Getting to know others with the same diagnosis, treatments and fears reassured us that we were not alone.
MD Anderson’s caring and communication has helped us through cancer
Dr. Hoffman was so personable, and her physician assistant Sarah Todd was the best of the best. We could sense her caring heart through her genuine concerns. Whenever Bill had an issue, Sarah would prescribe something to help him through.
Every time we were at the Proton Therapy Center, we noticed the whole waiting room lit up when nurse Dexter Allen’s shift started. He welcomes every single patient so enthusiastically.
MD Anderson’s business office is a true advocate and voice for their patients. Knowing MD Anderson’s insurance experts are talking to your insurance company on your behalf relieves a lot of stress.
Our first experience at MD Anderson in 2008 set the foundation of trust necessary for us to weather the other storms of cancer that came our way. Bill would not be alive without the care, communication and proactive choices the medical team at MD Anderson has made, and we are so thankful for all of them.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
It is the small details that set MD Anderson apart.