John Tucker of Anderson, S.C. was 15 when he first came to MD Anderson in 1965. At that time, the institution had been in operation for 21 years, and teenage John could barely comprehend his diagnosis.
"When you're young, cancer is cancer," he says. "You don't think about what type of cancer it is or what stage it's in, cancer is cancer. It's fierce and it's deadly. And I had cancer."
The baseball player had been having trouble throwing a ball. After finding a lump underneath his armpit, John's doctors immediately recommended he go to MD Anderson. John recalls that even 50 years ago, MD Anderson was the premier cancer hospital in the nation.
"It was a rapid chain of events," he says. "Two weeks after the biopsy came back I had surgery, and two weeks after that I was home."
'Cancer used to be the end. It's not anymore.'
John was diagnosed with desmoid fibromatosis, a rare form of sarcoma that occurs in about two to four people per million per year nationwide. His right arm and shoulder were amputated to prevent the cancer from spreading. Since then, John's focus has been on what he gained rather than what he lost.
"Life is precious. You can't dwell on the negative," he says. "You've got to have faith. Every problem is an opportunity to do something positive."
Today at 65, John is MD Anderson's fourth longest survivor. He's lived a full life: raising a happy family; serving his community and state as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives for six terms; receiving the state's highest order, the Order of the Palmetto; and counseling fellow cancer survivors and amputees.
John celebrated his 50th year of being cancer-free in September, returning to MD Anderson for the first time in 35 years during the institution's annual Survivorship Conference.
"Simply put, MD Anderson gave me my life," says John. "I'm living proof of life 50 years after a cancer diagnosis, thanks to MD Anderson. It's a wonderful place."