Clearly I never thought I would go from doing my third Ironman triathlon and actually WINNING a division first place in a second triathlon both a few weeks prior to being diagnosed with cancer. It just goes to show you how fast things can change. The four months since my diagnosis have seemed like an eternity, physically and certainly emotionally draining. It has also profoundly changed me, reminding me of the most important things in life: God, family and friends. It is for all these reasons that I am completely 100% at peace with all of this and ready to do whatever it takes to survive and thrive. It took staring death in the face to save me.
Cancer has also opened my eyes to the importance of what I do. I am a cancer geneticist that runs a large cancer research lab in Houston. I was always obsessed by things like looking in a microscope, somehow missing the true personal impact cancer has on its victims. I am now poised to do great, profoundly better science with this aspect as the driving force behind my efforts. I am a better person. I am a better scientist. I was meant to go through this, it has purpose.
Luckily my treatments are going well, as my scans indicate a clear tumor response after five rounds of harsh chemotherapy. We are killing the primary tumor in my pelvis as well as the three metastases, which are all located in bone. I am beating this, but chemo is not enough. During my initial biopsy I managed to convince the doc to pause my procedure midway through, track down some dry ice (not an easy task) and perform extra biopsy passes so that I could take tumor back to my lab. GREAT guy – certainly he was set back by the request having never sent a tumor home with a patient in a to-go box in real-time. I am lucky this happened, as I learned after then that my sarcoma cannot be classified by pathology. So, now I’m doing the science. I should have full genome sequencing data back in a few weeks. I am hoping to identify an “actionable event,” that is, a genetic change that guides treatment. My laboratory happens to specialize in identifying such events, particularly “fusion genes” that often lead to sarcoma growth, so we are poised figure this out. Not just personalized medicine, but in this case VERY personalized medicine. There is no holding me back. I will beat this with the combined help of my excellent clinical care team at MD Anderson and my fantastic lab filled with eager trainees and support staff ready to do the science. And while not a focus of my research prior to cancer, I will continue our studies on sarcoma with the goal making a tangible impact on the lives of others afflicted with this horrible disease.
Stay tuned for great things…
If you or a loved one has been impacted by sarcoma cancer, we encourage you to share your story. Sharing your story can be such an inspiration to others who are dealing with sarcoma in their own life and remind us all of the urgency to find better treatments in order to make an impact on the devastation that sarcoma cancer brings. Let your experiences help others become involved with raising awareness!