Last May, Jerry Vilmont's Iowa City, Iowa doctors diagnosed him with stage IV bladder cancer and gave him less than six months to live. Jerry and his wife, Cheryle, live in nearby Clinton, where they lead a close-knit family with four children and four grandchildren living within five minutes of their home. They were devastated.
Jerry's son-in-law did some quick research and found MD Anderson has made impressive strides in treating bladder cancer. Before long, Jerry was headed to Houston for his best chance at survival, confined to a wheelchair and growing ever weaker. That day, at the end of his cul-de-sac, a special surprise awaited him: all of their friends, children and grandchildren holding a banner the grandchildren had made that read "Our papa will beat cancer."
"It brought tears to my eyes," Jerry recalls. "I thought, 'How are they going to cope if I don't beat this?' Maybe that helped me too."
After a series of tests at MD Anderson, Jerry met his oncologist, Jennifer Wang, M.D., and his surgeon, Jay Bakul Shah, M.D. They started with chemotherapy, which shrank the tumor to half its size. After a quick jaunt home for his daughter's wedding, it was time for surgery.
Bladder surgery patients typically have a 10- to 14-day hospital stay followed by months of recovery at home. Thanks to the Optimized Surgical Journey for bladder cancer patients, a new approach by Shah that tweaks the standard of care before, during and after surgery, Jerry was discharged three days after the operation.
"Jerry wouldn't be alive today if we hadn't gone to MD Anderson," Cheryle says.
He's regained nearly all of the weight he lost during treatment and is back to his favorite activity: 18 holes of golf, five days a week.
"I was given a miracle," Jerry says. "Dr. Shah is the best thing that ever happened to us."
To show their gratitute, Cheryle and Jerry contributed $125,000 to support the doctor's Optimized Surgical Journey initiative.
"This is a good cause for a good team of people moving in the right direction," Jerry says. "I look at them as geniuses with common sense and compassion."