Germ cell tumor survivor: MD Anderson helped me get back to doing what I love
Eric Roberson Jr.
I’ve been teaching some form of band since I graduated from high school in 2015. By the end of that same year, I was already instructing some of my former classmates. Then I moved to Huntsville to study music, and I started teaching at a different school near the university. But every summer break, I’d return to Houston to teach marching band and percussion at my old campus. It’s just something I love to do.
That’s why the summer of 2021 was both really great and really terrible. The great part was that I’d finally landed my dream job, right after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in music education. I was going to be the full-time percussion director at a Houston-area high school. I was so excited!
But just a few weeks before classes started, I learned that I had a pineal germinoma — a type of germ cell tumor — in my brain. I was diagnosed the day after I turned 24. Happy birthday, right?
I wasn’t really worried that I would die, but I was really scared and a little in shock. Luckily, my parents steered me toward MD Anderson. Both of them are medical professionals, so I knew they’d only send me to the best. And they were right. MD Anderson helped me get back into the classroom where I belong — and return to doing what I love.
I let my dad know because he’s an ER physician. I texted him to describe what was going on, then asked him what I should do. He said to come to his emergency room and we’d do a CT scan.
I followed his suggestion. That’s when we both found out I had a brain tumor. My dad was one of the first people to see it. He told me later that having to tell me I had a brain tumor officially made it his worst day ever. That makes two of us.
My germ cell tumor treatment
My parents contacted MD Anderson almost immediately. I was admitted to the hospital right away and had a procedure to drain fluid from my brain the next day. Interestingly, that turned out to be the only surgery I’d have to treat my cancer.
Next, I had six rounds of chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant using my own cells, and a six-week course of radiation therapy. Those therapies shrank my tumor so much that it’s almost undetectable now. My doctors decided it would do more harm than good to try to remove the remainder, so we’re just watching it carefully. I return to MD Anderson every three months to make sure it’s stable.
None of us was very familiar with stem cell transplants before my diagnosis. It was only later that I learned they’re normally used to treat blood-based cancers like leukemia and lymphoma. That made it seem kind of weird I had one to treat a germ cell tumor in my brain. But my MD Anderson doctors assured us that studies had shown this treatment has one of the highest success rates for my exact type of cancer. We all trusted them, so we went with their recommendations. The results speak for themselves.
My life today, after germ cell treatment
Today, I feel amazing, and all of my symptoms have resolved. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case while I was still undergoing cancer treatment. The stem cell transplant alone required me to be in the hospital for 30 days. That wasn’t really fair to my students, so I had to resign from my dream job.
Still, I was able to land another job at a different school district this summer. Now, I teach both middle and high school students in band, percussion, trumpet and euphonium.
I’m not focused exclusively on percussion right now, but I’m still hopeful I’ll get back to that again someday. For now, I’m just glad to be back where I belong: in the classroom and teaching music.