For college professor Chu Nguyen, Ph.D., taking care of his health and eating a plant-based diet is important. So, when he noticed a lump on the right side of his neck, he was concerned.
“I’m a very active and healthy 70-year-old,” says Chu. “I enjoy doing yard work, construction and consider myself a jack-of-all-trades.”
In early December 2021, he called his ENT, but due to the holidays, his appointment was not until the following month. By Dec. 24, the lump had become more painful. He went to a local emergency room and was told it was an infection and prescribed antibiotics.
But Chu was still worried. “My gut instinct was to get a second opinion,” he recalls. “Living in Houston for over 30 years, I wanted to go to MD Anderson because I knew it was the top cancer hospital in the nation.”
A life-changing second opinion
In February 2022, Chu made an appointment at MD Anderson’s Mary Ann Weiser Suspicion of Cancer Clinic, where he met with internal medicine specialist Gloria Iliescu, M.D. He was referred to Interventional Radiology, where he then saw Thomas Lu, M.D. A biopsy of the mass on the right side of his neck did not show cancer but was suspicious for infection. So, when Chu met with infectious disease specialist Ella Ariza-Heredia, M.D., she did an extensive work-up. Chu also mentioned he felt a lump on the left side of his neck.
Chu’s care team continued to search for the cause of the lumps on both sides of his neck. The following month, a repeated CT scan of the neck showed an enlarged lymph node on the left side. Another biopsy with Steven Huang, M.D., revealed he had lymphoma.
“I am grateful that I came to MD Anderson and my care team did such a thorough search to find the root of my symptoms,” says Chu.
Chu remembers being very anxious about starting treatment. “When you hear cancer, you are terrified. But Dr. Gunther made me feel calm and reassured me that my cancer was in an early stage,” says Chu. “She explained the treatment and helped me understand what to expect. This made a difference in my mental health throughout the process.”
Clinical Nurse Erin Espinosa also talked Chu through his questions and concerns. “I cannot say enough good things about the faculty and staff at MD Anderson. Dr. Gunther and her team were very professional, efficient and comforting.”
Chu had minimal side effects from the radiation treatment, aside from some skin irritation. He drove himself to daily treatments and continued his normal daily activities.
A cancer survivor’s advice for other patients
Chu continues to follow a plant-based diet with occasional exceptions. “Ever since my wife and I started this diet over a year ago, I’ve lost 18 pounds and have a lot of energy, even after treatment,” he says.
Chu returns to MD Anderson for follow-up appointments every six months. He encourages everyone to get checked out when symptoms arise.
“If I had not gone to the doctor for the lump on the right side of my neck, I would not have found out about the cancer on the left side,” says Chu. “If you have doubts, go to MD Anderson for a second opinion. It could save your life.”