MD Anderson helps Major League Baseball broadcaster overcome head and neck cancer
When retired Major League Baseball player and Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Buck Martinez was diagnosed with cancer, he knew exactly what he was going to do: face each day with a positive attitude and return to broadcasting.
While Buck and his wife, Arlene, were in Florida for the winter of 2021, he felt a hard nodule the size of a quarter under his chin. It felt hard but not painful. At first, his doctor in Florida said it was benign and nothing to worry about.
A few weeks after a blood test showed that Buck may have cancer, he underwent an MRI and biopsy.
Further testing revealed a type of head and neck cancer called squamous cell carcinoma of the base of the tongue. His doctors recommended he travel to MD Anderson to see radiation oncologist Steven Frank, M.D., who specializes in treating head and neck cancers.
But Buck thought about other options closer to his home in Florida. So, after he arrived in Canada to get ready for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball season, Buck canceled his initial appointment at MD Anderson to prepare for the upcoming baseball season.
That changed on April 8, 2022. Buck was on the field preparing to cover opening day between the Texas Rangers and the Toronto Blue Jays when he received a call from Dr. Frank. He told Buck not to make any treatment decisions until he came to MD Anderson to see him. After that phone call, Buck made plans to fly to Houston the following week.
“If Dr. Frank had not called me, I would not have gone to MD Anderson and received proton therapy. That would have changed my outcome,” Buck recalls.
Choosing MD Anderson for head and neck cancer treatment
“Dr. Frank was very upfront with me,” says Buck. “I remember him saying, ‘We can do this, this is not a big challenge, we can get you fixed.’”
Undergoing specialized treatment for head and neck cancer
Frank and his team used a type of proton beam therapy called pencil beam scanning. Pioneered at MD Anderson, pencil beam scanning uses a tumor’s location, shape and size to create a customized pattern of protons to treat the tumor while avoiding nearby healthy tissue.
“No two tumors are identical, so we customize the proton beam to target a patient’s unique tumor location, size and shape,” Frank says.
During combined proton therapy and chemotherapy, Buck experienced skin irritations that felt like a severe sunburn. He also had mouth sores, a sore throat and pain when he swallowed. None of this affected his voice or his ability to eat solid foods, though Buck says eating wasn’t always pleasant.
Buck credits his care team at the Proton Therapy Center. Nurse practitioner Ian Moore and nurse Shef Gandhi helped him stay focused, positive and informed. “They talked to me before treatments about what was going to happen and helped me control side effects and pain from treatment,” he says.
“Everyone from the people at the reception desk to the radiation therapists made me feel like I was the only patient being treated each day,” Buck says. “Every aspect of my care was first-class.”
Getting back to the ballpark after cancer treatment
Buck encourages others facing a new cancer diagnosis to come to MD Anderson. “The minute you walk into MD Anderson, they give you confidence,” he says. “Every aspect of your health is approached and taken care of while you are there.”
Buck completed his last treatment on June 28 and headed back to Florida to recover before returning to the broadcasting booth. “Everyone has been very supportive, and I’m glad to be back to work in time for the pennant race,” he says. “Keep a positive attitude. That makes all the difference in the world.”