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Cancer Researcher Becomes Cancer Survivor

In March 2013, research scientist J. Mark Brown, PhD, met colorectal surgeon Hermann Kessler, MD, PhD, during Cleveland Clinic new employee onboarding sessions.

Little did they know their paths would cross again four months later, when the results of a colonoscopy revealed Dr. Brown would need surgery to remove his colon and the large, fast-growing tumor within it.

Dr. Kessler performed the procedure, which revealed the tumor was stage 3 colorectal cancer. Dr. Brown received six months of chemotherapy, followed by another surgery to remove nearby lymph nodes and Dr. Brown’s rectum, which had a high probability of becoming cancerous.

After his second surgery, he spent six years undergoing periodic follow-up testing by oncologist Michael McNamara, MD.

“Removing your colon may seem like a terrible thing, but it cured me of my ulcerative colitis, and it cured me of cancer,” says Dr. Brown, who studies certain types of cancer and cardiometabolic diseases as part of his work as director of research in Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute’s Center for Microbiome & Human Health and staff member in the Department of Cancer Biology.

“While removing your colon and wearing an ileostomy pouch may seem very disruptive at first, you can live a high-quality life without a colon,” says Dr. Brown.

“It is rewarding to see Mark doing so well, and that he’s sharing his good experience with others. He was a model patient and can be an encouraging example for others who are facing ulcerative colitis or advanced cancer,” says Dr. Kessler.

Ten years later, Dr. Brown and his family of five celebrated his survivorship milestone by riding together in VeloSano Bike to Cure 2023 . For the first time, Dr. Brown’s youngest child, 8-year-old Claire, was eligible to participate, joined by his wife, Amanda, and sons Will, age 13, and Elliot, age 11.

Mark and his family throughout the years at VeloSano.
Dr. Brown has always been supported by his family. Together they'll participate in VeloSano. (Courtesy: J. Mark Brown, PhD)

Celebrating its 10-year anniversary, VeloSano began as a weekend-long bike ride in Cleveland and has become the link that connects philanthropy to research, research to patients and patients to cures. With every dollar raised supporting transformative research at Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Brown has been the recipient of two pilot grants, funding projects currently underway in his lab.

“The grants have allowed us to explore new projects that would be challenging to receive funding for through traditional sources. VeloSano is unique because it helps seed important, early-stage research,” states Dr. Brown.

Among those projects in Dr. Brown’s lab are initiatives that delve into the unique ways the human gut microbiome metabolizes various types of foods, often in ways that can either cause or prevent certain types of cancer.

“For anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer, try to remain hopeful, even in advanced stages. Don’t read the statistics because your condition is a unique case,” advises Dr. Brown.

Dr. Kessler echoes those sentiments, “Many patients feel scared when facing this type of condition or surgery. We look to empower our patients and collectively come up with the best treatment plan for them individually. That approach, along with stories from patients like Mark who have been through it, give them a sense of comfort.”

Related Institutes: Digestive Disease & Surgery Institute , Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, Lerner Research Institute
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