I was lucky enough to be treated at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas, which is considered to be the premier cancer facility in the world. Living in Southern California and never having much exposure to anything cancer-related I had not heard of MD Anderson. Lucky for me, my husband had gone to Rice University across the street from MDA’s main campus and knew it well. Immediately after hearing my diagnosis at my local hospital, he said “We need to go to MD Anderson to see what they think.”
I was initially hesitant to travel to MDA as that felt like a lot of hassle and a waste of time. We had a wonderful local hospital less than 15 minutes from us and I was desperate to get my treatment underway. Then I got a second phone call from a dear friend who I deeply respect (she actually introduced my husband and me) and after her words of comfort, she said “You have to go to MD Anderson.” Her family had gone there for advanced cancer as a Hail Mary after being told it was “over”– and it saved their life. I begrudgingly told my husband he could research getting me an appointment in Houston as I tackled the myriad of appointments, phone calls, and tests at home.
An amazing man and MDA doctor helped my husband navigate patient registration, specialists and other necessary arrangements. Less than 2 weeks after my diagnosis we were in Houston. We were only there for two days, but we hit the ground running. I would arrived early in the morning with a schedule full of consultations, scans, biopsies, blood draws and tests all perfectly curated by administration and populated in my app. Everyone was professional, thorough and intelligent. I have never seen a hospital so well integrated. Every department flowed into one another. All the doctors connected and discussed my case. And all without any pushing or requests from me. This is how cancer hospitals run.
Additionally, all of my doctors were specialists. They all dealt with my specific cancer. My radiation oncologist was a breast cancer radiation oncologist. My surgeon a breast cancer surgeon. Same with my oncologist and reconstruction surgeon. Their focus was completely breast cancer - nothing else. They weren’t a generalist that goes an inch deep and a mile wide; they were a mile deep. My cancer was all they did. (And they have these kinds of specialists and staff for all cancers).
I was impressed and intuitively knew MD Anderson was my best chance at survival. Want some hard evidence? While I was there on my first visit, three things happened that I believe are responsible for me being alive today:
I thank God every day for MD Anderson and those who helped me get there. Is a research hospital right for you or your loved one? At a minimum for a second opinion (which some insurance companies require anyway). Keep in mind that not only are these the ultimate experts in your cancer, they are on-par from a cost perspective with your local hospital and they even offer better financial assistance. They are cancer researchers not only trying to get you healthy and cancer-free, they are also the closest to finding a cure.
If you've started treatment and do not feel like you're getting the answers or care you need - you can get still get that second opinion at a research hospital. Don’t think about a hospital further than “down the road” as a hassle – think about cutting edge treatments that will increase your chances of survival and living cancer free!
Here is a complete list of NCI designated cancer research hospitals in the U.S.