Kidney cancer survivor Jodi Harris and her husband, Mike, live in Pearland, Texas, in a hangar home on an active airport. They enjoy traveling, spending time at the lake and hanging out with their combined family of children ages 19, 20, 21, 23 and 24.
“I was first diagnosed with kidney cancer at age 39. It was discovered as an incidental finding on a CT scan. I had a partial nephrectomy in 2011 and thought I was in the clear. Fifteen months later, it was back. At stage IV, the cancer had spread to my spleen, pancreas, lungs, sigmoid colon, appendix and bladder.
I knew I had to come to MD Anderson. In January 2014, I met with Dr. Jianjun Gao in Genitourinary Medical Oncology. He was compassionate and caring but had to deliver the difficult news that I had maybe three years to live, with no cure for my disease. I was 41, a single mom with three young children. Dr. Gao prescribed a pill form of chemotherapy but warned that kidney cancer is tough and the treatment would only slow the growth.
As I went downstairs to fill the prescription, Dr. Gao shared my case with his department chair, and together they came up with another option: high dose interleukin 2 therapy (IL 2), a regimen used for melanoma patients. The regimen had less than a 10% chance of working, but it could offer a cure.
We decided to go for it. Dr. Nicholas Papadopoulos (“Dr. Papa”) rose to the challenge of administering the treatment. In June 2014, after seven rounds of immunotherapy, the tumors in my lungs were gone. Dr. Papa sent me to see Dr. Surena Matin, who assembled a surgical team. On July 2, I underwent more than eight hours of surgery to remove the rest of my kidney; my adrenal gland, spleen, appendix, and sigmoid colon; the tail of my pancreas; and part of my bladder. Dr. Matin performed a miracle in that operating room.
In August 2014, my scans showed no active disease. Dr. Papa ordered two more rounds of IL 2 therapy. I remain disease-free and live a happy, healthy life. I am now married and have seen my children graduate from high school and one graduate from college. I truly owe my life to the physicians at MD Anderson. I am thankful and grateful for what they have given me.
Since Dr. Papa retired, I have been seeing Dr. Patrick Hwu, who oversaw my first inpatient treatment at MD Anderson. One day he looked at me and said, ‘I have a good feeling about this.’ Since then, he often describes me as ‘the story of MD Anderson.’
I encourage other patients to stay strong and keep fighting, knowing MD Anderson will be right along beside you. In fact, several members of my family have been treated there. I cannot express all that we owe to MD Anderson and what a difference the care we have received has made in our lives.”
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