Dan Smith: The Man Who Refused to Run Out of Options

I’m only 72. I still have important things to do.

That was how Dan Smith felt in August 2014 when he learned he had skin cancer that had turned into non-resectable head and neck cancer—cancer that cannot be surgically removed.

“My surgeon in Atlanta said the cancer had been there awhile, and the location meant I had a 50-percent chance of coming out of surgery alive or without a major stroke,” Smith recalls. “It was a cold, stunning slap in the face. But I wasn’t going to let my fear of dying stop me from seeking answers.”

Fortunately, Smith is not the kind of man who gives up easily. He poured himself into researching his options and reaching out to friends and family. His son, a former guitar player with musician Sheryl Crowe, called Crowe, who called Doug Ulman, president and CEO of Pelotonia, an annual grassroots bicycle tour that raises money for cancer research at Ohio State. Within days, Ulman was in contact with Theodoros Teknos, MD, a head and neck surgeon and chair of the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Ohio State.

“I never knew a doctor so personal and professional,” says Smith. “He was my adviser and consultant through the whole process.”

Smith underwent chemotherapy with cisplatin and radiation treatment in Atlanta to shrink the tumor, which he admits slowed him down a little but didn’t stop him in his job as chief information officer of Hudson Bay Company and Saks.

In May 2015, the cancer was still there but small enough to be operable. His cancer team in Atlanta moved forward with the surgery, but three months later, just after Smith’s 50th wedding anniversary, he found out some of the cancer remained. His surgeon recommended a second operation but said that, after that, Smith would be out of options. “I wasn’t prepared to accept that. Time was running out and I needed more options,” he says.

He called Dr. Teknos, and within two weeks Smith underwent surgery and interoperative radiation at Ohio State. Postsurgery brought more radiation. Six months later, Smith was given a tentative all-clear and was introduced to Thomas Olencki, DO, of the OSUCCC – James, who has worked successfully with immunotherapy drugs in patients with diagnoses similar to Smith’s. Should he need it, Smith has yet another option of promising treatment ready at the OSUCCC – James.

“The James offered therapies that were not available in Atlanta,” he says. “The advanced and specialized techniques offered by The James saved my life. I was not out of options.” Since being treated, Smith has learned more about research being conducted at the OSUCCC – James, such as the use of genetic profiles to create and test cancer treatments of the future. The work has inspired him.

“I had some savings set aside for philanthropy, and I chose to support head and neck cancer research at The James,” he says. “This is important work. I’m grateful to be alive, and I’m also grateful to have met these talented, motivated, loving people who do what they do to give people like me more time to live.”

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