Learning to Live With the Unexpected

UT Health Austin’s Livestrong Cancer Institutes help Baltimore native face unforeseen challenges

Reviewed by: Jason Dudey and William Matsui, MD
Written by: Lauren Schneider

Jason Dudey smiling outside the Health Transformation Building at UT Health Austin. He is wearing a denim jacket and dark polo.

Spring 2019 was off to a promising start for Baltimore native Jason Dudey. Not only had he recently entered remission for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer affecting white blood cells that help the body fight infection, but he was also moving to Austin to further his career in the live events industry, allowing him to work more closely with the city’s legendary music festivals.

To ensure Jason’s health remained stable throughout this transition, his doctor in Baltimore referred him to William Matsui, MD, a board-certified medical oncologist in the Hematologic Malignancies specialty within UT Health Austin’s Livestrong Cancer Institutes. Dr. Matsui specializes in treating non-Hodgkin lymphoma and other cancers involving the blood, bone marrow, and/or lymph nodes.

During his initial visit, Jason was met with an unwelcome surprise: his cancer had returned, meaning he would have to undergo treatment for stage four non-Hodgkin lymphoma in a new city with a new care team. “No words can describe how it felt to learn my cancer had come back,” shares Jason. “Within weeks of moving to Austin, I had resumed cancer treatment. Luckily, my experience at UT Health Austin was amazing.”

Find out why some cancers are more likely to recur after treatment and how Dr. Matsui is working to change this.

<br>A Coordinated Care Plan

At UT Health Austin, we take a multidisciplinary approach to your care. This means you will benefit from the expertise of multiple specialists across a variety of disciplines caring for you in one place to avoid having to schedule multiple appointments with providers at locations all over the city.

Jason’s treatment at the Livestrong Cancer Institutes began with a comprehensive appointment in which he consulted with a vast array of providers, including a social worker, dietitian, and palliative care specialist.

“Having access to my entire care team during a single appointment made it easier to follow their recommendations,” says Jason. “Instead of juggling various appointments with different specialists while also undergoing chemotherapy, I was able to focus on my health.”

Learn more about the Livestrong Cancer Institute’s Cancer Life ReiMagined (CaLM) model for whole-person cancer care.

<br>A few months into Jason’s chemotherapy regimen, Dr. Matsui began the conversation around another treatment option: bone marrow transplant. In this procedure, a donor’s healthy bone marrow cells are injected into a patient’s bloodstream and make their way into the patient’s bones, replacing the unhealthy bone marrow tissue that produces cancerous blood cells.

“Jason was a good candidate for bone marrow transplant because his condition was stable and a suitable donor had been identified,” notes Dr. Matsui.

In early 2020, Jason flew to Baltimore to receive his bone marrow transplant. He underwent the procedure in his hometown so that he could recover with the support of family members nearby. “Recovering from bone marrow transplant involves months of close supervision from doctors and caregivers,” explains Dr. Matsui.

This extended hospital stay coincided with another event that took the world by surprise: the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. “By the middle of March, I could no longer have visitors,” recalls Jason. “It was the strangest time to be in any hospital in this country.”

In April 2020, Jason flew back to Austin to continue his recovery in his new home. Since his white blood cells were depleted in the wake of the procedure, he was extra cautious about his risk of COVID-19 infection.

Explore how white blood cells help your body fight foreign pathogens that cause disease.

<br>“As a high-risk patient at the height of the pandemic, I felt safe at UT Health Austin,” shares Jason, who continued to visit the clinic every few months for follow-up visits. At these appointments, Dr. Matsui and his team monitored Jason’s health to ensure he did not develop infections or other complications following his transplant.

These routine visits have become less frequent as Jason’s recovery has progressed. Once a year, he undergoes positron electron tomography (PET) and/or computerized tomography (CT) scans at UT Health Austin’s Imaging Center to detect whether his lymphoma has returned. He praises the Imaging Center care team for maintaining a calm environment in what could otherwise be an uncomfortable situation for patients.

“When you undergo a scan, you are enclosed in a dark tube for almost an hour,” says Jason. “The Imaging Center care team is always in good spirits and even has me laughing before I enter that tube so that I never get anxious.”

A Whole-Person Approach to Recovery

During each visit at UT Health Austin, Jason finds comfort in reconnecting with the care team who helped him through the most difficult moments of his cancer journey. Perhaps the most unexpected obstacles Jason faced were the physical and mental challenges he experienced during his recovery.

“I was never concerned about the medical aspects of my condition, because I had such a great team supporting me,” notes Jason. “Still, I dealt with nonstop fatigue for almost a year after my transplant, making it hard to participate in work or social activities the way I used to.”

“I just wanted to be my old self again,” continues Jason. “Eventually, I realized I was trying for something that was unattainable.”

Jason’s care team prioritized his mental well-being throughout his journey. “As a life-changing experience filled with uncertainty, cancer diagnosis and treatment can be psychologically traumatic for patients,” explains Dr. Matsui. “Additionally, bone marrow transplant is a mentally and physically demanding process requiring months of medical attention. Having mental health support in place is critical to patient success.”

Learn how UT Health Austin social workers play an integral role in patient care.

<br>Jason’s care team included a UT Health Austin social worker from the Integrated Behavioral Health care team, who put him in touch with two nonprofits that promote well-being within the local cancer community. The first, the Flatwater Foundation, provides mental health services to individuals affected by cancer. Through this mental health support, Jason was able link his struggles to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“My father was in the Army, and I grew up believing that PTSD only affected people who experienced military combat,” shares Jason. “Acknowledging that I had also been impacted by trauma was an eye-opening experience.”

The second nonprofit, Regarding Cancer, partnered Jason with a peer survivor in the bone marrow transplant community who helped him understand what to expect during his recovery. “Having experienced the transplant process himself, my peer survivor could empathize with me in a unique way,” notes Jason. “No matter what I was going through, I had somebody by my side who understood my struggles.”

A New Outlook on Life

Jason has paid this support forward by mentoring others in the bone marrow transplant community. “My own experiences taught me how important community is for recovery, and I want to help foster those relationships,” explains Jason.

Explore ways to support a loved one with cancer or another difficult diagnosis.

<br>Jason encourages others facing a cancer diagnosis to manage their uncertainties by staying in the present moment. “For so many years, I was so high-strung and only focused on my career,” he says. “I had to learn to pause and take care of myself.”

Four years later, Jason views his transplant as a new beginning, which he commemorated with a tattoo of his transplant date on his wrist. “Spiritually, emotionally, and mentally, I’m a different person in a very positive way,” says Jason. “My cancer journey helped me realize what’s important and live according to those priorities.”

For more information about the Livestrong Cancer Institutes or to request an appointment, call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737) or visit here.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.