I've been a patient at the MD Anderson for just over a year now. In that time I've come to realize there are three things all the patients here have in common:
First, and most obvious, we have cancer.
Second, we're being treated at the premier cancer facility in the country, if not the world.
Finally, we all took a different path on our cancer journey to get here.
My cancer journey began with a sore left knee in the mid-1990s while living in Denver. After a variety of tests and minor surgery to correct the problem, I was diagnosed with a specific type of bone cancer called chondrosarcoma.
My doctor told me it had come from a bone disease that I had as a kid.
The treatment for the bone cancer would be a knee joint replacement for my left leg.
The battle wasn't over
Initially, the surgery seemed to have cured me, and I enjoyed four pain-free years with no worry about the bone cancer returning.
Then, in early 2000, my doctor determined that my artificial knee was loose, a not uncommon occurrence. She would need to do a procedure called a resection, which involved removing the old artificial knee components and replacing them with new ones.
The operation was successful and once more, we thought we were done with cancer.
In early 2005, I returned to the doctor, concerned about a persistent tenderness and swelling in my left ankle. The news wasn't good. The swelling was from another tumor. This time, the surgery would be the amputation of my left leg below the knee.
The amputation below the knee eventually became the amputation above the knee as several infections made keeping the remaining part of my artificial knee a painful waste of time.
The battle wasn't over, and I endured several more tumor removals from what remained of my left leg.
Things got worse when additional tumors showed up in my right elbow and my lungs.
Every time my doctor removed one malignant tumor, it agitated the benign tumors nearby, and they started growing.
An answer I couldn't accept
Last spring, my doctor told me there wasn't anything else he could do. He recommended that I switch to hospice-type care because the tumors were growing too fast and that accept the fact that bone cancer would likely take my life in five to 15 years. It was an answer I couldn't accept.
After four months of research, I found myself at MD Anderson. We met with Dr. Patel and the staff in the Sarcoma Center and learned about a clinical trial for a new drug to treat my type of bone cancer. They wanted to know if I was interested. My answer was, "Of course, I'm interested!"
Six weeks later I was back for the initial scans and X-rays to begin the study.
That was last summer.
What I've learned
In the time since, my tumors are still there, but they haven't grown at all. Given the choice between stable tumors or checking myself into hospice care, I'll take stable tumors. If the current drug stops working, there are other trials I can be a part of.
Since last year's grim prognosis, I've learned two new things that I didn't know last year; things that most MD Anderson cancer patients also have in common: options and hope.
There are options and different approaches for treating cancer without taking away our dignity. Me and most other MD Anderson patients hold on to hope that our journey through life will take place on our terms, not cancer's.