Between them, husband and wife Malcolm and Dorothy Paterson have been diagnosed with three different types of cancer, one of which is so rare that only about 300 new cases are identified in the U.S. each year.
Both Patersons sought treatment at MD Anderson first for their respective diseases. That’s why MD Anderson’s mission of Making Cancer History® is so personal for them. And it’s inspiring everything they do as co-chairs of MD Anderson’s inaugural Boot Walk to End Cancer™, a 1.2-mile stroll around the Texas Medical Center that raises money to support MD Anderson’s cancer research. The event will take place on Saturday, Nov. 12.
“We are so excited,” Dorothy says. “I’m a geologist and Malcolm is a physicist, so we understand how complicated this disease is and how urgent it is to get funding.”
A breast cancer diagnosis leads to MD Anderson
The Patersons first faced cancer in 1998. That’s when Dorothy was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma after finding a lump in her breast while showering.
Dorothy considered MD Anderson first because her breast cancer was so aggressive (stage III, HER2+) and she’d heard of its reputation. But that decision became firm when several close friends working in the medical field also encouraged her to get to MD Anderson as quickly as possible.
Once here, Dorothy had a bilateral mastectomy with breast reconstruction surgery. She also had 27 lymph nodes removed. That was followed by eight rounds of chemotherapy — a combination of 5-flouraurasil, doxorubicin (Adriamycin), and cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan).
“Adriamycin is known among patients as the ‘red devil,’” Dorothy says. “It is extremely strong and toxic, but that’s what I needed. And I was so thankful it was available to get rid of that insidious disease.”
Malcolm becomes a prostate cancer patient
A decade later, Malcolm was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer, after his doctor discovered a lump during a regular checkup in 2008. Based on Dorothy’s experience, he knew where he wanted to go. Malcolm had a robot-assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy (RALP) under John Davis, M.D., a recognized leader in the field who had been recruited to bring that technology to MD Anderson.
“The timing was pretty perfect,” Malcolm says. “My prostate cancer was fairly aggressive, so neither I nor my doctors felt comfortable taking the ‘wait and see’ approach.”
A uveal melanoma diagnosis
A few years later, Malcolm’s ophthalmologist saw a suspicious freckle on his left retina during his annual exam, and referred him to MD Anderson again. Here, Dan Gombos, M.D., diagnosed him with uveal melanoma, a very rare eye cancer, and immediately began researching his treatment options.
“I put a big priority on minimizing damage to my sight,” Malcolm says. “I’m a pretty keen tennis player. And I didn’t want to be a one-eyed tennis player.”
Malcolm was eligible to received proton therapy for his melanoma, but because it wasn’t yet available at MD Anderson for that type of cancer, Gombos referred Malcolm to a trusted colleague at an out-of-state facility.
“Dr. Gombos listened very carefully to my concerns with regard to the possible side effects, and fully supported my preference,” Malcolm says. “That’s why I chose to do my post-treatment follow-up with him. He was acting solely in my best interest.”
A shared commitment to Making Cancer History®
Today, neither Dorothy nor Malcolm shows any evidence of disease. But because of the impact cancer has had on their family, both Patersons are determined to make a difference through the Boot Walk.
“We’re honored to assist in raising critical funds to support cutting-edge research on all types of cancer,” Dorothy says. “Since our first diagnosis 18 years ago, great strides have been made in many areas, including more targeted therapies, less invasive surgeries, and breakthroughs in immunotherapy. In fact, Herceptin — the very first non-chemo drug for treating breast cancer — had just been approved by the FDA the year I was diagnosed. However, the battle to end cancer is far from won. And we don’t want anyone else to have to go through what we did.”
The Patersons set a personal fundraising goal of $26,000 for themselves. They’ve already raised more than $21,000 towards it.
“Both of us are just so full of gratitude to be thriving and cancer-free,” Dorothy says. “We’ve had world-class medical teams give us our lives back, and we feel deeply compelled to do whatever we can to end this disease.”
Register for the Boot Walk to End Cancer™.