Doctor who helped cancer patients dies

April 17, 2009 11:05:50 AM PDT
A doctor who spent decades delicately removing cancer from the brains of desperate patients has died of brain cancer himself.But he used his three-year battle against brain cancer to test new treatments and encourage others. Dr. Sam Hassenbusch spent his life trying to save people who had brain cancer until he was diagnosed with it himself.

"It's so bizarre. I do this for a living by one of the great ironies of life I do the exact same thing as I do for a living," said Dr. Hassenbusch.

Houstonians first met him as the neurosurgeon that operated on Dr. Marnie Rose, a young pediatric resident who had brain cancer. She died in 2002.

Three years later, Dr. Hassenbusch had his first symptom: a headache he couldn't shake. He got an MRI to convince himself it was nothing but saw the cancer from across the room.

"I went over to see if it was my name on the film. Yes it was," said Dr. Hassenbusch. "Do you know how many times you can check a film to see if it really was your film?"

He fought hard. He helped test two important new brain cancer treatments, an experimental vaccine shot which shows great promise and a new chemotherapy pill called Temedor. But he wondered about his future.

"Did 25 years of neurosurgery go down the drain? No residency, all those years of training," he asked.

A week after his own brain surgery, he was back in the operating room.

"I gave up asking why a long time ago. It happens," said Dr. Hassenbusch.

Dr. Hassenbusch loved riding his motorcycle and he talked openly about his cancer to me and others many times. He wanted to encourage brain cancer patients, to live fully and to live with hope.

"I want to be an inspiration and encouragement to other cancer patients, make some sense of all this I'm going through," said Dr. Hassenbusch.

Dr. Hassenbusch died at 54.

He worked to raise money for research on the brain cancer vaccine at M.D. Anderson. His family has asked that donations in his memory be made to the Rose foundation, which is funding that research.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter


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