When she was diagnosed with a rare form of stage IV rectal cancer, Mary Kay didn’t settle for a second opinion. The first four doctors she saw offered grim prognoses, so she saw a fifth, Heinz-Joseph Lenz, MD, at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Lenz suggested a personalized chemotherapy approach based on research conducted at USC Norris.

“He had been working on a chemotherapy for the type of cancer that I had,” she said. The timing was on her side. “It was a new chemo. He said if I had come to him two years prior, he would not have been able to help me.”

By the time Mary Kay came to USC Norris, the cancer had also spread to her lungs. Mary Kay had two video-assisted, minimally invasive surgeries to remove the tumors, and continued chemotherapy. In addition, surgeons performed an abdominal resection to remove the last of the tumor. After continued chemotherapy, she was cancer-free for years.

Unfortunately, four years later, the cancer reappeared. Thanks to the diligence of the team at USC Norris and the continuing care she was receiving, it was caught very early and she has been cancer-free for two and half years.

Through deep determination, plus the research and support of the USC Norris team, Mary Kay continues to beat the odds. She is particularly grateful her search brought her to Dr. Lenz. “Even when he was telling me the facts, he never took my hope away. His staff was wonderful and I knew they really cared about me”, she said.

“Dr. Lenz’s assistant, Taline, went above and beyond. She called me at home to see how I was doing and made time for me when I called her with concerns. She was just wonderful.”

These days Mary Kay is spending her time with her daughters instead of in treatment. She cherishes every minute of it. “Every day, I am able to watch my daughters grow up and be a part of their lives.”

Now her experience is giving hope to others. A professor of medicine and preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, Dr. Lenz is sharing Mary Kay’s success story with his students and peers. Mary Kay said, “He has written many papers about the cancer that I had, and its unique position. He said I’m very well-documented.”