The phone rang this morning on our new Patient Power Hotline (877-232-5445). On the line was a worried woman from Lawton, Oklahoma. She'd been diagnosed with malignant melanoma that had spread to her lymph nodes. She was waiting for more test results to learn how far the spread had gone. She had listened to our recent webcast with Dr. Patrick Hwu from M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and had made some calls to get to us, the producers.

First I told the woman I was not a physician but rather a patient. My advice was do not proceed with treatment until she has a consultation with an expert like doctor Hwu who specializes in the treatment of melanoma and also conducts research on what may be the treatments of tomorrow. I showed her how to go on the M.D. Anderson website, find the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Center and fill out a new patient self referral form.

"I've never been to Houston," the woman said, obviously not thrilled about making a long road trip. I told her such a trip, whether to M.D. Anderson or another melanoma center could be lifesaving. I am hoping she'll make the trip.

Part of what powered my urging to her was the testimony I heard from three women with advanced colon cancer who were featured on one of our webcasts last week with Dr. Edward Lin of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Susan Johnson from Washington State, Tiffany Heigl from Oklahoma, and Kay Bartlett from Alaska all said they were alive today because they chose a renowned expert in colon cancer as their doctor and benefited from his research in using the combination of Xeloda, an oral chemotherapy, with Celebrex, a pain medication. There is a lot more research needed to understand why this combo has helped in the cases of these women and several other patients, but the point is they may well be alive today because they went the extra miles, past many more convenient hospitals, to connect with a specialist/researcher in their life-threatening condition.

I have interviewed many, many people with serious diagnoses who "should have been dead" but were not because they made the extra effort to meet with a specialist/researcher in their condition – even if that expert was far from their home. It seems like it shouldn't be so difficult, especially when you are sick. But in some less common conditions, like my leukemia, for example, state-of-the art expertise is not at every hospital or even most. Of course, well-meaning doctors at local hospitals won't tell you that nor is it something we patients normally go shopping for. We're scared and maybe tired. We want help not a road trip or plane flight to a strange city. But what if it's that extra step that saves your life? I think it did for me.

I urged the woman on the phone to call me back with what happened. I hope she takes my advice. It may or may not make a big difference. But with a serious cancer that has spread, doesn't she owe herself and the people who care about her the effort?