Everyone touched by cancer has a story to tell. We reconnected with just a few of the inspiring people we met in 2017 to see how they’re doing today.
It’s been five years since Tim, a special education teacher from Emerson, New Jersey, completed treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma at MSK. Tim was part of a clinical trial with Matthew Matasar, whom he calls “an awesome doctor and an awesome person.” Today, Tim sees Dr. Matasar once a year for a checkup.
“I love going back to see him,” says Tim, now 35. “He remembers everything. When he walks in the door, he says, ‘Get up and give me a hug!’”
Dr. Matasar’s positivity rubbed off on Tim when he was in the throes of his illness. “I trusted him. My parents trusted him. We felt comfortable,” he recalls.
Tim is gearing up for a big 2018: His wife, Melissa, is pregnant with their third child, a girl due in May. She’ll join the Waples’ two boys, Kristian, 5, and Aksel, 1.
When 11-year-old Esmeralda came to MSK in 2015, she was in need of a miracle. Three rounds of intensive chemotherapy for leukemia at a Long Island hospital hadn’t worked. Ezzy — as her friends call her — was nearly out of options. Ezzy’s oncologist, Kevin Curran, wanted his young patient to undergo molecular testing to see if there was a reason chemotherapy wasn’t working for her, as it does in most people with the disease. When he saw she had a genetic mutation that made her particular type of cancer resistant to chemotherapy, he suspected she’d be a great candidate for CAR T cell therapy. This promising form of immunotherapy uses a patient’s own T cells to treat his or her disease.
Ezzy underwent CAR T cell therapy and a subsequent bone marrow transplant at MSK and is now cancer free. In August, the US Food and Drug Administration approved CAR T cell therapy for use in children with certain forms of leukemia, opening the door for more young people to receive the same lifesaving treatment Ezzy had.
As for Ezzy, she is now 13, back in school, and looking forward to starting high school next year. “I’m happy I went back to school because now I can see my friends again,” she says.
Haley Houston Odlozil
In 2015, Haley was in her early 20s and months away from her wedding when she learned that she had advanced ovarian cancer. “Ovarian cancer is something that older women get. My grandmother had it. I was about to get married and start my life,” she recalled. When initial treatment didn’t work, Haley decided to leave her home state of Texas at the recommendation of her oncologist, who had studied under Dennis Chi at MSK. Dr. Chi, the Deputy Chief of MSK’s Gynecology Service and head of ovarian cancer surgery, performed a nine-hour operation on Haley to remove all of her cancer. Haley returned home to Texas cancer free.
Today, Haley and her husband, Taylor, are moving forward with their plans to have a child through surrogacy. Recently, Haley learned that her cancer may be back, but she and Taylor are staying positive. “My husband and I are going to proceed with life as normal,” she says. “Dr. Chi has ensured me that if need be, he will be able to operate.”
During and after his treatment for stage III testicular cancer, Jay was determined to help others. Then 38, Jay participated in a clinical trial to give his oncologist, Darren Feldman, new insight into the disease. He also raised funds and awareness for rare cancer research by participating in Cycle for Survival, MSK’s indoor team cycling event, and by publishing a book of poetry inspired by his time in MSK’s Visible Ink writing program. Today, Jay is 42 and the chief operating officer at Modus Agency, a digital studio in New York City. He and his wife, Katie Rose, took their daughters Juniper, 3, and Iris, 1, to Minnesota in August for camping and canoeing in the great outdoors. Jay has also taken on more opportunities to speak and write as a patient advocate, and even found time to build a sauna at his home. “It has been a great year!” he says.