Six-time cancer survivor: How my diagnoses led me to MD Anderson
Arthur Hamberger, M.D.
I’ve been diagnosed with six different cancers over the last 50 years: testicular, prostate, leukemia, bladder, pancreatic and kidney. All except the first one have been diagnosed and either treated or monitored by MD Anderson doctors over the past seven years.
Why have I turned to MD Anderson repeatedly?
First, I trained and worked there as a radiation oncologist in the 1970s, and I know there are certain resources you can find only at MD Anderson.
And second, I don’t think it’s a good idea to be taken care of by friends. In medicine, you need both objectivity and empathy. At the time of my second diagnosis, I was a 71-year-old, semi-retired radiation oncologist who had worked mostly at another hospital system. So, I sought the advice of a trusted friend and colleague there, but I let him know that I planned to be treated at MD Anderson.
How my first cancer diagnosis led me to MD Anderson
I was diagnosed with my first cancer in 1971. At the time, I was studying internal medicine at a New York medical school. I’d read an article about an unfortunate young man with a very aggressive type of testicular cancer and decided to examine myself. Lo and behold, I found a small lump in my right testicle.
I immediately went to a local urologist, who agreed with my self-diagnosis. Surgery revealed it was pure seminoma, a type of testicular cancer. Fortunately, it was only at stage I. So, the only treatments I needed were surgery to remove the affected testicle and low-dose radiation therapy for some nearby lymph nodes.
I became interested in the field of radiation oncology while undergoing that treatment. I applied for a fellowship at MD Anderson the same year and was accepted. I worked there for 10 years as a radiation oncologist and director of the radiation oncology training program before leaving to pursue a leadership opportunity at another hospital.
My second cancer diagnosis brought me back to MD Anderson
My second cancer diagnosis brought me back to MD Anderson as a patient 35 years later. It happened not long after my younger brother was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016. Though I was over 70 at the time and my prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels had always been normal, I decided to get them checked again. When they came back slightly elevated, I had a biopsy at MD Anderson. It showed I had prostate cancer in three separate areas.
My options were radiation and hormone therapy or surgery. Since part of my prostate had already been irradiated in 1971, I favored surgery.
I discussed it with my urologist, Dr. John Davis, one of the most talented and experienced robotic surgeons in the country. He agreed that robotic surgery would be a reasonable option for me. He performed the nerve-sparing prostatectomy and pelvic lymphadenectomy on March 31, 2017. I made an excellent recovery and needed no additional therapy.
Three more cancer diagnoses quickly followed
None of the lymph nodes removed during that surgery showed any evidence of prostate cancer. However, they did show evidence of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. So, Dr. Davis referred me to leukemia specialist Dr. Philip Thompson. After conducting some additional tests and scans, he recommended: “watchful waiting.” My lymphoma continues to remain stable and untreated.
In Nov. 2018, I noticed a slight pink tinge in my urine. I called Dr. Davis, and he ordered some scans. They revealed a large tumor in my bladder and a separate mass in my pancreas.
Dr. Davis was able to remove the bladder cancer completely during two transurethral resections of a bladder tumor (TURBT) procedures done six weeks apart in December 2018 and January 2019. And Dr. Naruhiko Ikoma, an outstanding gastrointestinal surgeon, was able to remove the pancreatic cancer, along with half of my pancreas and all of my spleen, on Feb. 18, 2019.
Afterward, I began a six-month course of chemotherapy under the care of medical oncologist Dr. Michael Overman. I finished all of my treatments by September 2019. And, aside from a bit of neuropathy, I’ve felt well ever since.
Why I stay at MD Anderson
I still get regular checkups for all of these cancers at MD Anderson.
I feel very fortunate to have been treated and receive all of my follow-up care at MD Anderson. It truly is a unique institution. And, thanks to the superb skills of Drs. Davis and Ikoma, the loving care of my wife, and my dedication to regular exercise, I made rapid recoveries from all of my surgeries.