Last May, doctors in Iowa City, Iowa, gave Gerry Vilmont just five months to live. He’d just received his bladder cancer diagnosis a few days before, and he and his wife, Cheryle, were crushed.
That’s when Gerry’s daughter and her then-fiancé went online and found MD Anderson.
Today, thanks to bladder cancer advances at MD Anderson, Gerry is cancer-free and back enjoying life in Iowa.
Coming to MD Anderson for bladder cancer treatment
The first sign that MD Anderson was the right choice for Gerry came during his first visit. The doctors and nurses gave him hope -- something he had little of at that point.
“They were very encouraging, talking like I had a chance if you stuck with them,” he says. “They were positive, which is what you want.”
After a series of tests, Gerry’s doctors -- oncologist Jennifer Wong, M.D., and surgeon Jay Shah, M.D., -- set up his treatment plan. They’d start with chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. If the chemo was successful, Gerry would have surgery to remove his bladder.
The chemo worked. By mid-September, scans showed the tumor had shrunk to half its size.
Doctor’s orders: A quick trip home to attend a daughter’s wedding
At that point, Gerry was ready for surgery. But the procedure was put on hold for a few days so Gerry could attend his daughter’s wedding.
“I always try to see the world through my patients' eyes to get a sense of what they would want. The whole reason patients travel long distances, endure grueling chemotherapy regimens and agree to undergo big cancer operations is that they want to be around to enjoy more time on this planet with their loved ones,” Dr. Shah says.
“To make Gerry miss his daughter's wedding because of his operation would have defeated that whole point. I also have a little daughter whose wedding I do not plan to miss.”
Gerry flew back to Houston the day after the wedding. Two days later, he had surgery.
A new approach to bladder cancer surgery
Normally, Gerry would have been in for a long, difficult recovery after bladder cancer surgery. But he benefitted from a new approach developed by Dr. Shah that makes several changes to care before, during and after surgery.
For instance, patients can drink clear liquids up to two hours before surgery. This keeps them hydrated and helps them get back to eating solid food quickly. Pain medicines also are administered toward the end of the surgery, helping stop the worst post-surgery pain before it starts.
The technique worked for Gerry. Bladder surgery patients typically have a 10- to 14-day hospital stay followed by a slow, months-long recovery at home. Gerry was discharged just three days after his surgery.
By late October, he had turned the corner in his recovery. He’s now regained more than 20 of the pounds he lost during chemo and is strong enough to lift weights, walk on the treadmill and even play golf. He admits it’s an amazing turnaround after being given just a few months less than a year ago.
“There were so many things that were part of this miracle that I’ve experienced,” Gerry says. “But MD Anderson was definitely one of the biggest parts.”