Today, Allison is most excited about the future of immunotherapy and how it can be used to treat more patients and more types of cancer. But he’s especially touched every time he meets a patient who has benefitted directly from his research.
“It really brings home that what started off as a fundamental science project and then became these clinical trials has real-life implications,” he says.
Therese Bevers, M.D., always knew she wanted to work in health care. She just never imagined she’d be in preventive cancer medicine for more than 25 years. Caring for a maternal grandmother who’d had hip surgery is what initially led Bevers to nursing school. But she quickly realized that job wasn’t for her.
A savvy advisor steered her toward medical school, and that’s where Bevers found her niche. After gravitating toward the preventive side of family practice for years, it was only natural for her to accept the role of medical director at MD Anderson’s Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center in 1996. Bevers remains in that same position today, and interactions with patients are still the highlight of her week.
“I really enjoy educating women on their cancer risk and everything we can do to minimize it,” she says. “Sometimes, it’s just a matter of framing something differently, so they can better understand it. Most of all, I love decreasing patients’ anxiety. That’s the best part of my job.”
As a surgeon, Ehab Hanna, M.D., finds the complexity and challenge of skull base tumors inspiring. Their location deep inside the head makes them difficult to access. And their proximity to critical structures makes them very hard to treat. That’s why many of these tumors were once considered incurable.
But Hanna has not only witnessed the dawn of skull base surgery — he has contributed to its development. He routinely performs complex skull base surgeries on our patients, a task he considers far more than just an exercise of skill.
“It’s about stepping into someone’s life at a very vulnerable point — possibly the most-vulnerable point — and guiding them safely through the storm,” he says. “Being involved in that process is the most rewarding part of my job.”
When Lavinia Middleton, M.D., first went to medical school, she thought she’d be a cardiologist. Growing up, she’d watched her father receive treatment for chronic heart problems and admired the way his doctors had cared for him.
But when an uncle was diagnosed with lung cancer during her residency, Middleton asked him to send her his pathology slides. It was she who discovered her uncle had been misdiagnosed: instead of cancer, he had a rare infectious disease. Correcting that diagnosis likely saved her uncle months of expensive, unnecessary treatment — and possibly his life. It also changed the course of her career, by steering her into pathology rather than clinical practice.
“I grew up watching Quincy on TV and reading Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, and I think of what I do as a kind of detective work,” she explains. “I love studying slides and consulting books to make sure my patients are getting the right diagnosis. Because the right diagnosis leads to right treatment and better patient outcomes.”
Until his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer while he was in college, Pedro Ramirez, M.D., thought he’d be a literature professor. But caring for her sparked his interest in science and medicine, and later, surgery and gynecologic cancers.
Today, he derives great pleasure from helping women get back to their lives after being treated for gynecologic cancers. He also finds satisfaction in helping young women retain their ability to have children.
One cervical cancer patient in particular marks a highlight of his career: the case of Tricia Jordan. Diagnosed with cervical cancer during a routine Pap test at her first prenatal exam, Tricia was told by multiple doctors that in order to save her life, she would have to sacrifice her pregnancy. Instead, she came to Ramirez at MD Anderson, after hearing about a new, cutting-edge procedure called a trachelectomy that he had studied.
“It was not completely accepted and considered a very risky option at the time, but she was willing to take the chance,” he says. “I performed the surgery on her in early 2004. She went on to deliver her baby at full term. Today, that baby is a vibrant and healthy young man. And Tricia is still cancer-free.”