As a professional photographer for more than 35 years, Wyatt McSpadden has focused his lens on thousands of subjects — from the down and out, to the high and mighty, and everyone in between.
When he was hired in 2003 to take portraits of cancer survivors for a series of panels in MD Anderson’s hallways and waiting areas, little did he realize that he would be capturing his future self.
In August 2011, McSpadden had surgery near his home in Austin, Texas, to remove what was presumed to be a benign tumor on his left parotid (salivary) gland.
His surgeon discovered a poorly differentiated carcinoma that was wrapped around the facial nerve.
A partial parotidectomy removed several lymph nodes that were involved, but spared the nerve.
“My cancer was tricky to diagnose because they weren’t sure of the primary source of the tumor. My doctor referred me to MD Anderson, where I was diagnosed with lymphoepithelioma,” McSpadden says.
To treat the rare cancer, he received a nine-week course of chemotherapy followed by 33 days of targeted radiation on the left side of his face and neck, plus a weekly remedial dose of chemo.
When McSpadden and his wife, Nancy, returned to MD Anderson three months after his final radiation treatment for PET scans and tests, he received great news.
“Our doctors described those scans as ‘perfect,’ and I continue doing extremely well today,” he says.
Back in the saddle
A native Texan who has contributed to Smithsonian Magazine and done years of work for Texas Monthly magazine, McSpadden has enjoyed what he calls “some remarkable assignments” since completing treatment.
They include a portrait session with country music legend Willie Nelson, a three-day assignment at the historic JA Ranch near his hometown of Amarillo, and taking the cover photo and inside shots for the magazine’s June 2013 feature, “The 50 Best BBQ Joints.”
But continuing to photograph patients and staff for MD Anderson’s Conquest magazine remains near the top of McSpadden’s list of favorite projects.
“Navigating the cancer highway has changed my perspective about this work, making my interactions with fellow travelers seem more real and honest,” he says. “And my appreciation for MD Anderson and the remarkable people who make it the best cancer hospital in the world is personal and runs deep.”
To view samples of Wyatt McSpadden’s photographic work, check his website at www.wyattmcspadden.com.