New lease on life

After a breast cancer diagnosis, participating in a Hollings clinical trial gave Varnesta Major a second chance at life.

Read about her journey
Vernesta Major sits on steps outside

Stories of Inspiration

photo of a woman holding her dog with text that says I want to do for multiple myeloma what the Komen Foundation did for breast cancer. Tiffany Williams

After beating multiple myeloma, Tiffany Williams became a tireless advocate for other patients and survivors. There is almost nothing she wouldn’t do to raise awareness about the disease and increase support resources.

Read about her mission
a man sits with his arm around his wife

Gary Davis

Gary Davis says he has no one to blame but himself — the information about the dangers of smoking was always there, but the addictive pull of nicotine was too much. He started smoking young, in the Army, and found it hard to quit despite repeated attempts.

But Davis did the next best thing. He made sure to get annual lung scans to check for signs of cancer. Gary’s doctors first saw a spot on his lungs in 2019. In 2021, they observed that the spot had started to change, so they referred him to MUSC Hollings Cancer Center.

At Hollings, following a biopsy that confirmed Davis had cancer, Ian Bostock, M.D., used robotic surgery to remove 20% of the right lower lobe of Davis' lung. Davis was in the hospital overnight and returned home the following afternoon. Two weeks later, he was on vacation and fishing with his grandkids.

He and his wife, Susan, said they were immediately put at ease by all the staff, from the front desk to the nurses. And they were amazed at the ease of recovery from the minimally invasive surgery. Plus, Davis has quit smoking — for good.

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Friedrich Andreas

Friedrich Andreas advocates for men to get routine prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing. "The only reason I even knew I had prostate cancer at first was because of a routine PSA test with my primary care doctor. It really can be the difference between life and death."

Andreas has battled prostate cancer twice — first in 2018, when he had his prostate removed at another medical facility, and then again in June 2021, when the cancer returned. It was then that Andreas decided to switch his care to MUSC Hollings Cancer Center.

“At the other facility in Charleston, I felt more like a number. While at Hollings, I felt like my team of doctors really cared about my treatment and outcome. They told me about the tumor board, made up of prostate cancer specialists, who would meet to review my case and design a program specifically tailored for me.”

Radiation oncologist David Marshall, M.D., treated Andreas. "My approach with any patient is that when they walk out of the exam room, they should feel better than when they walked in," he said. "You do that through education and talking with them about their options and what to expect."

a woman stands with her daughter

Mikiko Dollard

Determined to be there for her two daughters and her husband of 23 years, Mikiko Dollard underwent six grueling weeks of chemotherapy after her diagnosis of stage 3b cervical cancer in 2020.

When it came time for radiation, however, her existing fibroids and endometriosis complicated her care plan. Doctors knew she needed the best specialists to treat her, so she was referred to MUSC Hollings Cancer Center and Jerlinda Ross, M.D., and Samuel Cooper, M.D.

“In her case, the fibroids distorted imaging of her cervix, which may have impacted where radiation was given or the dosage that was used," Ross explained. "However, thanks to the expertise of Dr. Cooper, we were able to work through those challenges and deliver the appropriate dose of radiation where it was needed.”

Ross believes that providing care goes beyond the cancer itself — it’s about creating a support system and a holistic approach that treats both the physical and mental health aspects of the patient. “I think that is what we strive for. We want the patient and their family to feel like we care about them at an individual level — because we do.”

a woman sits on steps outside

Varnesta Major

Varnesta Major believes that participating in a clinical trial at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center gave her a second chance at life. Major was diagnosed with hormone positive, HER2 negative breast cancer in 2020. As it happened, Frank Brescia, M.D., was running a clinical trial looking at pembrolizumab, a type of immunotherapy, in just this type of breast cancer.

“People think of breast cancer as one disease, and it’s really not,” Brescia said. “The biology is quite different from one patient to the next, which makes more targeted treatment needed as we move forward.”

Brescia said newer treatments are more nuanced, and today there is more focus on reducing side effects and long-term effects on patients. After the trial, Major showed no evidence of disease and is thankful for the doctors and researchers at Hollings. She said she hopes her story convinces others to participate in clinical trials.

“In the African American culture, we don’t want to feel like we are guinea pigs for science. But I don’t see it like that. I hope my story changes the conversation in the community because medicine has come such a long way, and a big reason for that is because of clinical trials.”