In 2005, violinist Treesa Gold became concerned when she began experiencing weight gain, hair loss and acne. She saw a doctor, who told her, “You’re 24 and healthy. Stop being paranoid.”
Unsatisfied with this response, she saw an endocrinologist a few months later. After reviewing her bloodwork, he ordered a CT scan, which revealed a 13-centimeter adrenal gland tumor. Treesa was diagnosed with adrenocortical carcinoma. A surgeon removed the tumor, along with her left kidney.
But Treesa knew she needed to see someone with extensive experience in treating adrenal gland tumors for the next phase of her treatment. “My doctor said, ‘I will only see one case of this in your lifetime, and you want to go somewhere where they see many of these cases,’” she recalls.
Adrenal gland tumor treatment
In less than a month, Treesa traveled from New Orleans to Houston for her first appointment at MD Anderson.
“My doctor was the first person who talked bluntly to me about my diagnosis,” Treesa says, recalling that her doctor told her that adrenocortical carcinoma has a very high recurrence rate. “But I needed to hear that to prepare for treatment.”
Because adrenal gland tumors don’t typically respond to traditional chemotherapy, our doctors started Treesa on a half-gram of a type of oral chemotherapy called Mitotane, which treats adrenal gland tumors by suppressing adrenal gland hormone production. She was gradually given higher doses.
“My medical team was so incredibly kind and thorough,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever been cared for like I was at MD Anderson, from when I parked my car to when I left for the airport.”
Gratitude for every moment
Throughout chemotherapy, Treesa continued playing the violin with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. “I just wanted to continue doing what I love,” she says. “I never missed a rehearsal or a gig. I could make it to a break and then throw up."
She and her husband, Matt, cherished life like never before. “I felt so grateful for every single moment,” she says. “When I would play a Christmas tune, I was so emotional. I would think, ‘This could be the last time.’ I felt like everything in my life beyond that point of having cancer was just a bonus.”
Treesa continued taking Mitotane for more than a year while her doctors monitored her for signs of recurrence. After that, her doctor decided to try taking her off of Mitotane.
While she was relieved to be rid of the nausea, Treesa was still nervous about a recurrence. So she continued coming to MD Anderson for regular checkups. “When my doctor would talk about the future, I would think, ‘I’m going to make it to see 30!’” she says.
Life after adrenal cancer
Now, 11 years after her initial adrenal gland tumor diagnosis, Treesa is still cancer-free.
In July, she and her husband welcomed a daughter, Kit Alexandria. “I really do think that if I hadn’t gone to MD Anderson, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have had my daughter if they hadn’t been there, and if they had just chosen regular chemotherapy,” she says. “I always felt very confident that my doctors were going to consider what was best for me and would keep me alive.”
Today, Treesa is also keeping hope alive for other adrenal gland tumor patients that she meets through a Facebook group. “My advice to them is to do what they need to do to survive,” she says. “The main thing I say is: make sure you have good people on your team for treatment. Go somewhere where they know your cancer.”