Cancer Survivor Stories

As detection techniques and treatments become more sophisticated, people diagnosed with cancer are living longer, healthier lives – and often experiencing complete recovery.

The path to recovery includes advanced therapies, a compassionate care team, and the support of friends and family. We hope you find inspiration in some of our favorite stories from cancer survivors treated at UT Southwestern. 

Colon Cancer Survivor: Charles Quarton

Charles Quarton, his granddaughter, and his wife, Michele.
Charles Quarton, his granddaughter, and his wife, Michele, support each other as Charles manages his colon cancer. 

“After my initial shock, I realized that if I had the knowledge, I could deal with it. I could see the path to recovery and try to ride down the center of the path. The second time I was diagnosed, I knew it was a chronic disease that could be treated. It’s a big bridge to cross from seeing cancer as a death sentence to seeing it as a chronic disease.” Read Charles’ story.

Breast Cancer Survivor: Brianna Hinojosa-Flores

Brianna Hinojosa-Flores and her children
Brianna Hinojosa-Flores and her children

“I’m no longer going 100 miles per hour and living a busy lifestyle. We are focusing on family time and living a healthy lifestyle. As a mother of two with a legal and political career, I’ve learned to engage more with my two children at a level of quality over quantity. I go to all the school parties and on all the field trips. Personally, I am focusing on living in the present.” Read Brianna’s story.

Lung Cancer Survivor: Donna Fernandez

Donna Fernandez and Dr. David Gerber
Donna Fernandez and Dr. David Gerber

Donna Fernandez responded well to an immunotherapy drug for her stage 4 lung cancer. Her condition is stable, and she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren on nature outings, doing gardening, and working on her dogs’ agility training. She continues to champion the value of cancer research, funding, and awareness. “I’m not just alive,” she says, “I’m living life to the fullest.” Read Donna’s story.

Breast Cancer Survivor: Dr. Mary Jo Tonelli

Dr. Mary Jo Tonelli
Dr. Mary Jo Tonelli, diagnosed with breast cancer at age 90, is choosing to fight it and remains active and in good health.

Dr. Tonelli’s strong will and perseverance have guided her through life, including her most recent challenge – fighting breast cancer at age 90. Though nearly everyone on Dr. Tonelli’s route is younger than her, you can see how much they depend on her. A little inspiration can go a long way. Read Mary Jo’s story

Ovarian Cancer Survivor: Katie Ballard

Katie Ballard and friend
Katie uses her cancer experience as a platform to help spread ovarian cancer awareness.

Katie Ballard, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 20 with a tumor she describes as big as a Thanksgiving turkey, says, “I never expected my life to change so dramatically in just five days.” Early detection allowed her to have fertility-sparing surgery that did not require the removal of her uterus or her other ovary. She’s now in graduate school studying advertising and uses her cancer experience as a platform to help spread ovarian cancer awareness. Read Katie’s story.

Surviving a Genetic Mutation: Denise

Denise, a registered nurse at UT Southwestern
Denise didn’t know she had a genetic mutation. Finding it led us right to her cancer.

Denise, who tested positive for a genetic mutation that put her at risk for breast, ovarian, pancreatic, and other cancers, had prophylactic surgery and completed 18 weeks of chemotherapy and checkups. She gratefully says, “Without the surgery, I probably wouldn’t have lived to see 55. I hope to attend my children’s weddings and meet my grandchildren. My aunts never had that opportunity.” Read Denise’s story

Ameloblastoma Survivor: Matthew Ladin

X-ray photo of Matthew’s jaw with wires inserted
X-ray photo of Matthew’s jaw with wires inserted

Four years after his toothache turned out to be a tumor, Matthew Ladin recalls, “When you’re 25, you feel as if you’re invincible. Men need to be more cognizant of what their body is telling them. If it hurts, it hurts for a reason.” A rare condition called ameloblastoma, which requires extensive surgery and a lengthy recovery, was detected while Matthew went for his dental visit. “Don’t skip your regular dental checkup,” he says. Read Matthew’s story.

Multiple Myeloma Survivor: Kim Ludwig 

The Ludwig family
The Ludwig family

A survivor of multiple myeloma, Kim Ludwig says, “My goal was to see my daughter, Lindsey, graduate high school. That’s all I thought I’d be able to do, but my doctors convinced me that the cancer was treatable. Lindsey is now a student at Oklahoma University, and Jack, my son, is at Texas Tech University. I have a loyal and caring partner, Ken. I’m thankful for my body, my numbers, my kids, my boyfriend, my sister, and my doctors who encouraged me to embrace a successful outcome.” Read Kim’s story.

Kidney Cancer Survivor: Dr. Phil Evans

W. Phil Evans, M.D.
W. Phil Evans, M.D.

“I am much more grateful for the gift of life. I never let cancer control my life, but it made me question what I wanted to do with the rest of it. I appreciate my family, friends, and patients more than ever. I want to do more for the American Cancer Society, an organization dedicated to saving lives, where I have volunteered and received so much more than I have given.” Read Phil’s story.