He wasn’t worried, but his feelings changed once he learned a tumor had been found in his sigmoid colon.
“I didn’t have any prior symptoms,” says Jeff. “I remember going home that day fearing it was stage IV but hoping that it was anything but that.”
After getting scans the next day at a large hospital system near his home in Ohio, Jeff’s fear became a reality: he was diagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer that had metastasized to his liver and lungs. There were four lesions in his liver and three in his lungs.
“Once I knew I had cancer, I wondered if it could be cured,” he recalls.
Starting treatment for metastatic colorectal cancer
Jeff decided to seek out treatment at a comprehensive cancer center near his home in Ohio. He had surgery to remove the primary tumor in his colon. In November 2019, he started the chemotherapy regimen FOLFOX (fluorouracil, oxaliplatin and leucovorin). He completed one cycle, and scans showed the chemo killed two small tumors in his liver and shrunk the other two. But the cancer in his lungs grew, and more tumors developed.
“My oncologist told me that I was on the strongest chemo they had, and if they couldn’t get the cancer in my lungs under control, I may only have six or nine more months left to live,” Jeff recalls.
Jeff’s oncologist had him continue with the FOLFOX for another cycle in hopes it would get rid of the new tumors. But ultimately, Jeff was taken off the oxaliplatin and switched to a different chemo combination called FOLFIRI (fluorouracil, leucovorin and irinotecan). This kept the cancer from spreading, but the tumors on his lungs remained.
“I continued getting chemo throughout 2020 and kept hearing the same thing from doctors,” says Jeff. “‘We’re trying to get you operable. You have too many tumors, and they’re scattered. If we can just shrink one or two more, we can do this or that.’”
Every three months, Jeff’s scans showed that his tumors weren’t growing, but his doctors still didn’t think he was a good candidate for surgery.
MD Anderson’s expertise makes colorectal cancer surgery an option
Jeff knew he wanted to go to another national comprehensive cancer center.
“I considered several high-ranking institutions, thinking, ‘What’s the difference?’” he says. “But I know MD Anderson has been ranked No. 1 in the nation for cancer care for several years in a row. And I read a story online about a patient at MD Anderson who had a story similar to mine. I figured I should go there.”
Jeff was scheduled to begin chemotherapy after his bilateral thoracotomy. But his care team decided his body needed to let his lungs heal.
“My first scan at three months post-op showed no evidence of disease, but my second scan showed that more tumors had developed,” says Jeff. “That was in the summer of 2021, so I’ve been on chemotherapy continuously for the past two years.”
Jeff enrolled in an immunotherapyclinical trial in April, but he started having complications in his liver and colon, so he stopped that treatment. Recently, he has developed more tumors on his lungs. He still has full trust in his care team that they’re doing everything possible to keep him healthy.
“The mantra since I came to MD Anderson has not changed,” he says. “I remember Dr. Tzeng telling me it’s a great time in the world of cancer research and development. They plan on keeping me alive until a cure comes along for me.”
Thriving with metastatic colorectal cancer
Jeff continues to receive his chemotherapy locally every two weeks and returns to MD Anderson for scans every three months.
He is thankful not to have experienced any side effects from his surgeries or chemotherapy. He’s been able to maintain his active lifestyle.
“Whether it’s lifting weights, walking or some sort of cardiovascular activity, I’ve been able to do it,” he says. “It relieves stress, keeps me fit and helps me stay in the fight.”
Early after his diagnosis, Jeff had some dark days, but he credits his support system for helping him through the tough times.
“My extended family and friends have been extraordinarily supportive, and my wife and kids have been amazing,” he says. “MD Anderson is keeping me alive, and I’m thriving.”
Jeff now makes a point of connecting with others facing cancer by sharing his experience.
“All I can control is how I take care of myself, the time I spend with loved ones and getting the best medical care, which I am at MD Anderson,” he says. “MD Anderson gave me a second chance at life when another major cancer center said I was inoperable and gave me less than a year to live. It’s been four years, and here I am. I’m very blessed.”