Randy Hilliard, a doctor of psychiatry and University of Michigan professor, awards his survival to the privilege of being so close to a worldwide known cancer center and having the access to get treatment there.
Hilliard believes if he had just went to a community hospital for his treatment, he would not have been administered the lifesaving drug that spared him from committing suicide.
“I’d be deceased,” Hilliard says bluntly of his situation.
Hilliard was 59 and working as a University Psychiatry teacher when he found himself breathless after climbing a flight of stairs at a Halloween party at his University in 2010. He was concerned about how out of breath he felt and went to his primary care doctor, who checked his blood levels and found that Hilliard had lost half of his blood. More scans were done and then a gastrectomy. When Hilliard was able to get a diagnosis, he was confronted with what he felt was a death sentence: Stomach cancer, stage 4.
The chance of surviving the very rare Stomach cancer at this late stage is only 18 percent. Stomach cancer remains one of the most uncommon cancers in the Unites States.
At first, Randy Hilliard was so distraught that he tried to maintain some semblance of control over his remaining life. He planned to take a trip to Switzerland and kill himself with the help of an assisted suicide organization.
But before Hilliard could follow through with his plan, he decided to try to search for a cure and went through targeted radiation and chemo cocktails before one of his associates mentioned a drug called Herceptin.
Since Hilliard works at the University of Michigan, he had some rare access to other doctors and professionals and one oncologist suggested he give Herceptin a try. Herceptin usually allows a patient to live about 11-13 months longer and only 20% of patient are eligible to try it because patients have to have a rare compatible protein around the cancer cells that the medicine targets.
Hilliard tried the medicine, and in 2013 he was declared to no longer have evidence of his disease.
After the Cancer
Now, although he feels anxiety before his annual scan, Hilliard has embraced the idea of living and his wife and he have spent the last several years traveling the world. Hilliard knows that he is privileged to have access to other doctors and to live so close to one of the best cancer centers in the nation.
University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center raises millions of dollars annually for cancer research, and also provides a multi-disciplinary group of physicians, like pathologists, radiologists and oncologists all focused on the most up-to-date cancer treatment.
People in rural areas or without money or access to these type of care centers however most likely will not be so privileged.
Hilliard has been very vocal and does speeches and blog posts about the importance of people getting second opinions about their diagnosis and engaging in clinical trials and consultations.
November is stomach cancer awareness month.
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