Now, a few years after his UCSF surgery, Lax is cancer free. He returns to UCSF every few months for tests, visits he almost looks forward to, he says, because they reaffirm that he's healthy. He's even making plans for a golf game with his surgeon, Dr. Carlos Corvera. Here, Lax talks about his UCSF journey and what he wants people with rare cancers to know.
What was your life like before your diagnosis?
Before I got sick, I was like any other guy who went to work. I worked a lot of hours trying to provide for my family and grow in my career.
All of a sudden one day, I found out I was suffering from cancer, and it changes you. It changes your perspective. You have a drive, but it's a drive to survive. It's not a drive to grow your career.
What was it like to decide to undergo the UCSF surgery after your initial surgery?
It was a really hard decision. The odds were saying this patient has, on average, nine months to live. I said, "All right, I have that nine months banked with my kids and my family, or I can do this surgery and I may not even have that nine months. Or I can have longer.” It's a gamble. I went back and forth.
I certainly didn't want to live the rest of my nine months in the hospital. But at the end of the day, I picked up the phone and called Dr. Corvera, this renowned surgeon who gave me, little old me, his cell phone number. I called him on a Saturday afternoon. He took time from the soccer game where his kid was playing to talk to me, and he helped me through the decision. He kind of made me feel better that the odds were in my favor with the surgery, and that's what pushed me over the edge.
Dr. Niemann, the anesthesiologist, also gave me his cell phone number. He said, "By the way, I may not even allow the surgery," because after doing a few rounds of chemo, I was pretty weak. He said, "You may not be strong enough." I took that as a personal challenge, so I got on my elliptical. I was pedaling away on the elliptical for a few weeks, so I could pass the stress test, so I could prove to Dr. Niemann that I was strong enough.
What did you learn from that whole process?
You have to get a second opinion.
We learned through simple research that there are places with expertise in rare cancers. UCSF is one of those. It's not that UCSF gave me instant hope. They agreed with the initial diagnosis, but the whole approach was different. They didn't say, "We're here to manage the end of your life." They said, "Here's a treatment plan."
Then Dr. Kelley brings my case to the tumor board (a regular gathering of UCSF oncologists and other specialists that allows them to confer on challenging cases), and then she calls us up and says, "We think we have a surgical option." I had been told there was no surgical option. Things started to change.