Menu Close

Tom’s Cancer Journey with Stage 4 Squamous Cell Carcinoma

When chemo and radiation didn’t eradicate his squamous cell carcinoma, his doctor asked if she could enroll him in a clinical trial involving immunotherapy.

Tom Ross is a straight-talking Marine Corps veteran from Lavaca, Arkansas who doesn’t mince words. He only trusts one doctor (his cardiologist) and thinks healthcare is more of a money-making business than anything else. So recently when some symptoms pointed to a problem, he avoided seeking help for a year until he developed big knots on his neck and he couldn’t avoid it any longer. 

A biopsy revealed squamous cell carcinoma, which typically impacts the skin. Tom’s case, however, was advanced. His cancer had moved to his lungs and lymph nodes. His doctor referred him to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for treatment. Still, Tom remained skeptical, even when his doctor asked if he’d give her a chance to guide him through treatment.

“I don’t like doctors. I don’t like anything about them and I don’t trust them. I’d rather live 10 days doing what I want than 10 years wishing I had,” Tom says. “But she was nice. She honored her word and helped me a lot.”

When chemo and radiation didn’t eradicate his cancer, his doctor asked if she could enroll him in a clinical trial involving immunotherapy. “She said if I did the trial, it could help me and it would definitely help a lot of other people. As a marine and with the work I do now, I’ve protected people all my life so I said – ‘yes, sign me up.’ ”

For the next two years, Tom made the 520-mile trip each way between Arkansas and Houston for treatment every other week. For a while, he covered the costs himself, but it was getting tough. “A few times I drove in my pickup, stayed in the hospital parking lot and slept in my truck because hotels are so expensive. I’d get treatment, sleep a bit more in my truck and then head back,” he explains.

When the hospital learned of this, they referred him to Lazarex Cancer Foundation, which started reimbursing him for mileage, parking and hotels. “Lazarex offered flights but I’m not going to use their money when I can ride there myself,” Tom says. 

Tom on motorcycle - for blog post about Squamous Cell Carcinoma cancer experience.

An avid motorcycle rider, throughout his cancer treatment, Tom remained active with a motorcycle group in his community honoring veterans. He would escort them and their spouses to military funerals or participate in the observance of full honors at services – flag folding, playing taps and as part of the rifle team firing 21-gun salutes. In fact, he took part in more than 200 funerals in 2022 alone – riding his motorcycle during tornadoes, 8-degree weather, snow, intense heat and more. Tom also used his bike to travel the 1,000 miles to and from his clinical trial.

“I never stopped riding during treatment. I never slowed down,” Tom says. And in March 2023, he got great news –  his scans are clear and his cancer is gone. His visits to MD Anderson are now 3 months apart. “They said I beat the unbeatable cancer, and I said –  have you met me?” Tom says with a laugh. 

Tom says he still doesn’t trust doctors, but he does trust Lazarex. He is grateful to the non-profit and tells others who need help getting to their own clinical trial.  He believes reaching out to Lazarex is an important part of continuing to fight a challenging cancer diagnosis. 

“I’m a very resourceful individual but thank God for Lazarex. Whenever I needed anything they were quick and kind. Just excellent,” Tom says. “I don’t believe in giving up. Just go on. Overcome. Adapt. Lazarex can help you do that.”