Survivor Sunday: Cheers to Mike Leech

Guest Blog Post

A patient named Mike Leech came to our Foundation in 2016 needing support from our Patient Services program. A few weeks ago, he shared his story with guests at our 12th Annual Los Angeles Wine Dinner Auction & Celebration. We are honored to share his remarks here, and to help patients like him every day.

Cholangiocarcinoma is cancer of the extrahepatic bile ducts that drain from the liver. I have it.  And there’s no reason why I should still be here.  To understand my story, you need to know a little about cholangio.

The best thing is that it’s rare, 5-10 thousand cases a year.

It’s also aggressive.  Legendary NFL running back Walter Peyton was diagnosed in March 2004 and he died on November 1.  And that’s pretty typical.

Removing the cancer and replacing the bile ducts can extend average survival after diagnosis to three years.  Ten to fifteen percent of patients are candidates.  But even with the operation, no one with the cancer at my stage survived for five years in the largest study on the disease.

When I was diagnosed, two surgeons at top Philadelphia hospitals told me I wasn’t a candidate for the surgery. 

So the first treatment was chemotherapy.  Well, cholangio is also resistant to chemo.  It doesn’t do anything for most patients.  For some, it slows and even stops the growth for a time. 

Just before starting chemo, I called my good friend Lee Jay Berman.  Lee Jay’s been part of this dinner since it began.  I was looking for practical advice about getting ready for what lay ahead. His reaction was “Mike, I just don’t understand why we aren’t talking about a cure.” 

When I explained, he said, “Well, what’s the most advanced place for this cancer that’s close to you? We need to have them see you.”  That was Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York.  A second opinion on chemo might be helpful. “I think we can help,” he said.  “At the leading institutions where the T.J. Martell Foundation funds research, when the T.J. Martell Foundation calls the head of the hospital, they take the call.”

A few days later, thanks to Laura Heatherly, T.J. Martell Foundation’s CEO and Kate Fitzpatrick, Director of Communications and Patient Services, I was at Memorial Sloan Kettering.  Instead of an oncologist, I was face to face with the man who from my research is the leading surgeon in the world for this disease, William Jarnigan.  I wasn’t a candidate for the operation, he said, “but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that you can become a candidate.  If the chemotherapy works, you could become operable.”  That was a statistical long shot, but he was right.

After one round of chemo, the cancer stopped growing.  After two, it actually shrank.  He was able to do the operation.

Normally, this cancer comes back in 6 months to a year after the operation.  But it was over a year and a half later when mine did. It was in the spleen and in a hard to reach part of the liver. 

Nobody, and I mean nobody, ever has a second operation for bile duct cancer.  But Dr. Jarnigan took out the spleen and did what he could in the liver—followed by radiation.  That can completely destroy the remaining cancer in my liver.  We’ll know in six weeks.

Now, the cholangio is still in my blood stream.  It is going to get me.  But right now, I’m not on any treatment. And it’s been exactly four years since my diagnosis. 

Without Lee Jay and Laura and Kate, I wouldn’t be alive.  I don’t know whether research that the T.J. Martell Foundation funded played a role in my treatment.  I do I know that I’ve already had over three years more than I ever expected thanks to the T.J. Martell Foundation.  Time with my wife Kathy, who is here.  She’s been an incredible caregiver and support through four tough and scary years of treatments.  Time with my sons Jack and Neil, who were 6 and 10 but are now 10 and 14.  What a difference in our lives. I’m so grateful.

Cancer can happen to you or people you love and if it does, the T.J. Martell Foundation will be here to help.  Just as it’s helping save lives every day through research.  My story only happens if you stand up for all that the T.J. Martell Foundation does, which you’re about to get a chance to do. 

Then, hopefully, I’ll be back next year, having beaten all of the odds and gotten five years past diagnosis.

Q&A With Tracey Jordan, Women Of Influence Honoree

Tracey Jordan Social MediaWe will celebrate our 7th Annual Women of Influence Awards Luncheon on Friday, May 10th in New York City at The Plaza’s Grand Ballroom. This exciting event honors extraordinary women who have pushed the boundaries by achieving outstanding goals in business, work, family, home, and health while inspiring women around the globe to live their dreams. Every year, we love to chat with our honorees in the weeks leading up to our Women Of Influence event about their advice for other women and their connection to health, wellness and cancer.

Today we are proud to feature a Q&A with Tracey Jordan, who will be honored on May 10th at The Plaza. 

1) What does it mean to you to be chosen as a Woman of Influence by the T.J. Martell Foundation?

Being chosen as a Woman of Influence by the T.J. Martell Foundation is one of the highest honors I’ve ever received in my 35 years in the music industry. It’s a living testament to those who have taught, mentored, taken a chance and believed in me!

I have to mention Lee Solters & Sheldon Roskin, Berry Gordy, Clive Davis, Jheryl Busby, Ross Zapin and Scott Greenstein. And of course, the women, Katie Valk, Melanie Rogers, Iris Keitel, Martha Crowninshield and of course Mom!

2) What piece of advice would you give to young women today to inspire them to follow their dreams?

Never give up on yourself or your dreams.  Fight for what you believe in and, although it’s hard, try not to let them see you cry!  We’re creatures of emotion and sometimes it gets the better of us, but it’s looked at as a sign of weakness…that’s a hard one for me!  Stay close to the people who support you and try not to be affected by the negative ones.  Stay the course of your dreams and don’t let anyone take them from you.  Eventually dreams do come true!

3) What steps do you take to make health and wellness a priority in your life?

Being diligent about yearly check-ups as a responsibility on everybody’s part I can think of!  I try to watch what I eat, but that doesn’t always work…I will walk around the office and up and down the stairs to talk to someone in the office rather than call them on the phone or email them.

 

 

Q&A With Sandra Lee, Women of Influence Honoree and Cancer Survivor

Sandra Lee Social MediaWe will celebrate our 7th Annual Women of Influence Awards Luncheon on Friday, May 10th in New York City at The Plaza’s Grand Ballroom. This exciting event honors extraordinary women who have pushed the boundaries by achieving outstanding goals in business, work, family, home, and health while inspiring women around the globe to live their dreams. Every year, we love to chat with our honorees in the weeks leading up to our Women Of Influence event about their advice for other women and their connection to health, wellness and cancer.

Today we are proud to feature a Q&A with Sandra Lee, who will be honored on May 10th at The Plaza. 

1) What does it mean to you to be chosen as a Woman of Influence by the T.J. Martell Foundation?

I am just thrilled to be in the room and I am humbled by this honor. I believe we should all do our best to help one another, to share as much information as possible, and do both whatever and whenever is possible.

2) What piece of advice would you give to young women today to inspire them to follow their dreams?

I would say live your life being brave in every area and unintimidated- be kind yet firm and stand strong with your head held up no matter what.

Cement yourself in yourself.

Educate yourself and travel – everywhere and as often as possible. Do not listen to people who judge you – be comfortable in who you are, in the skin you were given and when you look in the mirror.

Allow yourself to dream big – as big as you can. Imagine what the best life is in this world, visualize it, and then allow yourself to have it. Go get it. Beware not to let others steal your dreams and therefore steal the possibility of your future.

Be smart, thoughtful and conscientious when the forks in the road arise—-follow each road in your mind’s eye and then make your decisions based on which road take to the best end.

3) What steps do you take to make health and wellness a priority in your life?

Schedule and Keep my doctors appointments.

Make as many heathy food choices as possible. No smoking, sleep, water, laughter, friends, family, work, play————wine.

4) If you are comfortable, please share one way in which your life has been affected by cancer.

I make every minute matter.

Q&A With Rosanna Scotto, Women of Influence Honoree

 Rosanna Scotto Social MediaWe will celebrate our 7th Annual Women of Influence Awards Luncheon on Friday, May 10th in New York City at The Plaza’s Grand Ballroom. This exciting event honors extraordinary women who have pushed the boundaries by achieving outstanding goals in business, work, family, home, and health while inspiring women around the globe to live their dreams. Every year, we love to chat with our honorees in the weeks leading up to our Women Of Influence event about their advice for other women and their connection to health, wellness and cancer.

Today we are proud to feature a Q&A with Rosanna Scotto, who will be honored on May 10th at The Plaza. 

  • What does it mean to you to be chosen as a Woman of Influence by the T.J. Martell Foundation?

I am so excited to be honored by this wonderful group and alongside such amazing women. I had the opportunity to meet Tony Martell a few years ago and his passion and commitment to making a difference in the fight against cancer have inspired me to do my part.

  • What piece of advice would you give to young women today to inspire them to follow their dreams?

Don’t be afraid to fail. After navigating the television news world for over 30 years, I realize that my mistakes and disappointments helped shape my career. You need to fail in order to succeed.

  • What steps do you take to make health and wellness a priority in your life?

I have never worked harder at health and wellness than I do now. I push myself to exercise several times a week and I practice meditation daily. It is difficult to shut off the work commitments, emails and social media that can overwhelm my day, but I have realized that taking 20 minutes to meditate makes me calmer and more focused.

  • If you are comfortable, please share one way in which your life has been affected by cancer.

I’ve had my own health scare. I’ve lost family to cancer.

To help honor Rosanna and our other outstanding honorees, please click here.

The Inspirational Story of Cancer Patient Ben Jumper

BenHe supported cancer research for years — and now, Music Row leader Ben Jumper is fighting the disease himself.

“Your whole life changes the minute the word cancer is said.”

Surgeons removed half his kidney, and doctors, after five years of clean scans, started to use the word survivor.

Jumper started giving talks to raise awareness about cancer research, and to offer them hope.

The fundraisers he organized for T.J. Martell Foundation became much more personal.

And then, five months ago, the devastating lung cancer diagnosis – and 33 radiation treatments and 11 rounds of chemotherapy.

“I really in the last year can say how blessed I’ve been because I’m truly living my dream. I know it’s a cliché, but I get to say it and mean it. I have my days of depression through all this. But I love every moment I get to spend with the family,” says longtime T.J. Martell Foundation board member Ben Jumper.

Click here to read the full article in The Tennessean.

We are Proud of our Commitment to Excellence

BlogThe T.J. Martell Foundation has contributed to many scientific achievements in leukemia, cancer and AIDS research over the past forty years. We are also focused on funding the brightest minds that will be the leaders in scientific research of tomorrow.

To read more about the life-saving research we are funding with your support, please click here.