Michael Mays’ life as a teenager in the 1970s revolved around baseball. The third-generation athlete was well on his way to playing professionally when his doctor found a lump under his arm during the physical exam required before training camp. The Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis that followed caused the 17-year-old to feel as though everything that he had planned for his life was ruined.
Back then, the disease was referred to as “The Cancer,” and it was perceived as a death sentence. And young Mays did, in fact, have a terminal case. Bewildered and watching his athletic career derail before his eyes, he saw little hope.
Mays was placed in the care of Dr. Richard Silver, whom he calls the father of Weill Cornell Medicine/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital oncology. As treatment was still in its infancy, Mays endured grueling chemotherapy infusion cycles followed by vomiting for three days straight and then on and off in the subsequent weeks. It was horrible. But he made it.
“By all accounts, Dr. Silver saved my life,” he says. “There is no doubt in my mind, had I been treated in any other environment, I wouldn’t be here today.”
Fast forward to 2002. Mays was in his early 40s and at the peak of his career, traveling the globe and working 14-hour days in world tour management. The same Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis returned – this time guised as a persistent cold and cough that doctors initially mistook for pneumonia but turned out to be a mass involving the bulk of Mays’ lungs, as well as his liver.
In Mays’ second bout with the disease, the fear that accompanied his initial diagnosis was replaced with confidence. He considered himself better prepared for what was to come and felt that returning to his family at Weill Cornell Medicine/NewYork-Presbyterian would ensure his recovery.
To this day, he remains amazed by how right he was. Under care from Dr. Tsiporah Shore, Associate Director of the Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Program, Mays received a bone marrow transplant and was shocked by the advancements and discoveries that Weill Cornell Medicine/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital had made over the years.
“From diagnosis through treatment, recovery had become almost expected,” he says. “This team of practitioners was winning regularly – and the third floor of Starr Pavilion had cancer on the run even back then.”
Battling cancer twice gave Mays a unique perspective. That being, as challenging as it was to climb toward a cure, looking back at the mountain once he had traversed it was truly glorious. Having traversed the mountain twice, Mays can confidently reassure patients at Weill Cornell Medicine/NewYork-Presbyterian that they’re in good hands.
“Aside from the outstanding credentials, you get to be part of an overall community,” says Mays. “There’s a relationship between doctors and patients and between doctors and the rest of the hospital staff. They truly value clinical and research collaboration as well as genuine human connection, creating an environment of empathy for patients and one another.”