Sajjad IqbalJust yesterday I hosted an online video interview with Sajjad Iqbal, a retired pediatrician from Ridgewood, New Jersey. He is incredibly inspiring and reminded me that statistics don't count for so much in these days of cancer medical progress.

Sajjad was diagnosed in 2002 with extremely rare parotid cancer, a head and neck cancer that is in the salivary glands. It happens to one in two million people, and he was told, at the time, only 30 percent survive two years. That was 16 years ago, and Dr. Iqbal is still alive and vibrant, having fought back the cancer and its subsequent spread to his lungs, bones and temporarily taking away his speech.

What is inspiring is that Sajjad never accepted defeat, never stopped looking for top doctors who would partner with him in state-of-the-art care, never being afraid of experimental approaches, never stopped looking for promising research, and never, never gave up his positive spirit.

Sajjad reminded me during the interview that statistics are developed over time. They do not adapt easily to the impact of breakthrough treatments—especially in very rare cancers and where examples of progress are few. If he had believed the first doctors he saw, that it was Bell's palsy and not cancer, the cancer would have progressed; if he had given in to the statistics that there was nothing to do; if he had not pushed for testing of his metastases, learned they were HER2-positive and that just maybe trastuzumab (Herceptin) might work; if he had not learned his bone lesions could respond to bicalutamide (Casodex)...he would be dead long ago. This man knew he had to take control of his journey and, with the benefit of improving science and doctors who believed in it with him, there just might be a better result—better than the bleak statistics.

Along the way, as you might expect, he had fights with insurance. Using Herceptin for his rare cancer was unknown. But he made a strong case and he received the medicine and the benefit.

If you believe, as both I and Dr. Iqbal do, that medical progress can give lie to some of the statistics quoted to patients today, then it makes sense for all of us as patients, and caregivers, to claim more responsibility for our care. We are the ones facing life-threatening diagnoses, and we are the ones who lose when the glimmer of new approaches for us is overlooked.

Watch our interview with Dr. Iqbal on Here's a link to Dr. Iqbal's book: Swimming Upstream: My Struggle and Triumph Over Cancer and the Medical Establishment: New Hope in Cancer Treatment. I can't wait for my autographed copy!

Wishing you and your family the best of health,

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