By Lana Maciel, MD Anderson Staff Writer
Dennis Parker is a warrior.
Since his first diagnosis of metastatic colon cancer, he's been in a hard-fought, four-year battle with the disease, which made its way through his body, spreading to his liver and lungs. And if that weren't enough, he also developed two cases of superficial skin cancers on his face, both of which were successfully removed through Mohs surgery.
It's an experience that has brought the 59-year-old into MD Anderson as a patient in various departments. And it's one that has left him grateful to the doctors who joined him in each of his battles against cancer.
Parker's long journey began in January 2007, when a biopsy returned positive for colon cancer that had metastasized to his liver. After having a tumor removed, he began chemotherapy treatments at MD Anderson.
"When they did the initial scan and I saw four spots on my liver, I thought I was in bad shape," he says. "I just had this feeling that this was it. I felt lost, and I didn't have a lot of faith that I would make it. But when I came to MD Anderson and they said they could treat it, I was encouraged."
Surgeons removed the entire right lobe of Parker's liver. Then, just when he began to recover, another type of cancer developed, this time in the form of basal cell carcinoma, a likely development from years of sun exposure and unrelated to the metastatic colon cancer.
Because the carcinoma presented a different, more superficial form of cancer, he opted for a different kind of surgery. Under the care of Deborah Mac Farlane, M.D., professor in the Department of Dermatology, Parker had the carcinoma removed from his nose with Mohs micrographic surgery.
A fifth occurrence
Typically, the Mohs procedure is used to treat primary or recurrent basal and squamous cell carcinomas that appear on areas of the body where tissue conservation is especially important. Using a local anesthetic, this highly accurate outpatient procedure ensures that the entire tumor is removed with minimal removal of healthy tissue. And, as in Parker's case, Mohs surgery often leaves little sign of scars.
Told he was cancer-free for the third time, Parker celebrated the beginning of 2008, but a CT scan in February indicated what appeared to be scar tissue on his right lung. On first glance, it was harmless, until a closer look revealed it wasn't scar tissue, but a further spread of cancer -- his fourth cancer occurrence.
"What they initially thought was scar tissue on my right lung started growing," Parker says. "So at that point, they knew it wasn't scar tissue. It was pretty surprising to find out that what we thought was one thing actually turned out to be cancer that spread to my lung."
Parker again had surgery on his lungs, but in 2009, yet another cancer surfaced. When his wife Cindy began noticing that a mole he had on the side of his cheek was getting darker in color, Parker paid another visit to Mac Farlane at the Mohs Unit. Test results confirmed it was an isolated case of melanoma in situ, which he again had removed through Mohs surgery.
"The melanoma had gone pretty deep on my cheek, so they cut out a good-sized area. But I was amazed at just how well it healed," Parker says. "The scar from the Mohs surgery is barely even noticeable."
Conquering 'the beast'
By the spring of 2010, another CT scan revealed that the cancer was growing back on Parker's lungs. As he approaches the four-year mark of his diagnosis in January 2011, the semi-retired resident of Schertz, Texas, hopes to finally win his war against cancer when he undergoes surgery to remove the last of the disease.
"Hopefully once I have the lung surgery, this will be the end of the cancer, and I can declare this beast killed."
Looking back at his lengthy cancer journey, complete with all of its highs and lows, the grandfather of three -- with another on the way -- says he and his wife have learned to appreciate every day as a gift.
"The longer I live, the more inspired I become because I look back at where I was in the beginning and where I am now, and I'm so thankful to be here. At this point, I'm getting better, not worse, and it makes me value life a lot more."
Specialized Treatments in Skin Cancer Therapy
Mohs surgery for more superficial skin cancers ensures maximum preservation of healthy tissue and complete removal of cancerous cells.
MD Anderson resources:
Basal cell carcinoma
Mohs and Dermasurgery Unit
Deborah Mac Farlane, M.D.
Sun Protection: Cancer Trends Progress Report (National Cancer Institute)
Skin cancer facts (American Cancer Society)
Patient Finds Hope After Battling Three Forms of Cancer
By Lana Maciel, MD Anderson Staff Writer
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