It was shortly after Christmas nine years ago when Brian Ross got the phone call that changed his life.
The newlywed had just discovered that he was going to be a father for the first time. Now, he was learning he had cancer.
“Those two moments came only a couple of weeks apart,” Brian says. “In December, we found out that my wife was pregnant with our first child. I received word that I had non-Hodgkin lymphoma in early January.”
Hard news to share
For Brian, the hardest part of receiving his lymphoma diagnosis was having to share the bad news with his family.
“The call to my wife was the toughest,” Brian says. “I truly believe that this kind of thing is harder on the spouse than it is on the patient. But when you also consider the fact that she was newly pregnant, it was definitely an emotional roller coaster. Still, I reassured her that I would be in the very best hands, because I was going to MD Anderson.”
Finding comfort in expertise
Brian followed through on that promise to his wife. And after they spoke with his care team, Brian started feeling even more confident.
“We had met the people who were going to take this on with us,” Brian says. “And they didn’t try to sugarcoat anything. They were adamant that this was treatable and they expected that we would beat it. We just had to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
Brian also drew comfort from having a clear treatment plan.
“The toughest part of a diagnosis like this is the very beginning, and the uncertainty it entails,” Brian says. “So our first drive home from MD Anderson was a lot better than the drive there. We didn’t necessarily have all the answers, but we could see the outline of an action plan.”
‘Hope’ inspires him to keep fighting
Brian was treated for five months with a combination of chemotherapy drugs known as R-CHOP (Rituximab, Cyclophosphamide, Doxorubicin, Vincristine and Prednisone). He experienced insomnia, hair loss, low-level nausea, constant exhaustion, body aches and chemobrain (short-term memory loss). But Brian drew strength from his unborn child, whom he and his wife gave the middle name “Hope” when she was born the following August.
“She represented our dream to be parents and to live the kind of healthy, happy lives that everyone expects to,” Brian says. “When my treatment ended and she was born a few weeks later, it was obviously more than worth it. We wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”
Heeding the call to give back
Now, Brian gives back by volunteering his time for MD Anderson and raising money to support blood cancer research. In 2012, he was named “Man of the Year” by one organization after raising what was then a chapter record-setting amount of funds for blood cancer research.
“I’m not a fundraiser by nature,” Brian says. “Frankly, it makes me a little uncomfortable. But cancer research is a pretty easy sell. Almost everybody has been touched by cancer in some way.”
Brian also frequently speaks with and offers encouragement to newly diagnosed patients. “I’ll never fully be able to repay MD Anderson for the life that it gave me and my family,” he says. “But just as there was somebody there to hold my hand when I went through it, I try to do the same.”