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Tom Bassett

Hitting Cancer "Hard and Heavy"

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I found out I had colorectal cancer at 47. As an otherwise active and healthy person, when I saw traces of blood where they shouldn’t be, I chalked it up to my bike riding. Yet because of a family history of colon cancer and a father-in-law in the medical field, I thought I would preemptively get a colonoscopy, which turned out to be a wise decision. 

Results for patients who discover colorectal cancer early are generally good, and the majority of patients with early stage disease are cured. However, despite my luck at finding the cancer early on, it was staged as III. I would require surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. I felt grateful to be under the care of Dr. Madhulika Varma, Chief of Colorectal Surgery at the University of California, San Francisco. 

My goal was to hit the cancer hard and heavy – I didn’t want to treat it gently – and Dr. Varma’s recommended course of action resonated well with me. I was comforted by her extensive knowledge and skill as a surgeon – and also by the generous and empathetic nature her team brought to their work – which was especially meaningful given the unique sensitivities of colorectal diseases. 

Dr. Varma explained there was a clinical trial that I may be eligible to join. As part of an academic medical and research center, the UCSF Center for Colorectal Surgery is able to provide patients access to novel experimental drugs and new therapeutic regimes through promising clinical trials. In some cases, clinical trials offer the latest, potentially life-saving drugs to patients, and are essential for developing and refining treatments that bring scientists closer to developing cures. 

I eventually joined a trial seeking to determine whether a course of radiation therapy (which uses high–energy x-rays to kill tumor cells) and fluorouracil, a cancer drug, combined with chemotherapy before surgery, can improve outcomes for patients with Stage II or Stage III rectal cancers. The study hypothesis is that giving radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy before surgery may make the tumor smaller and reduce the amount of normal tissue that needs to be removed. 

Dealing with my diagnosis turned my world upside down. I had the luxury of always feeling well and then suddenly my life was hanging in the balance, yet in some ways I also felt lucky, because the quality of care I received at UCSF was top-notch. Despite the difficulties I faced, I was glad that Dr. Varma and her staff were there to guide me through the journey. I started my morning today at the gym, lifting weights, and it feels great to be back at to my old level of fitness, health and prosperity, with a new perspective on how to be the best husband, father and business person possible.

- Tom Bassett

Tags: Colon Cancer
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