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UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center

Michael Mahaffey — Thirty-year cancer survivor recalls
life-saving care at UC Davis

Michael Mahaffey with his horse, Pilot

Michael Mahaffey was an active 42-year-old living on his ranch in Auburn, California. A successful businessman set to leave for Europe, Mahaffey noticed his gums starting to swell and pain behind his eyes. He had never had a serious health condition before, and figured a routine blood test would provide a simple explanation. But it wasn’t simple.

A bone marrow test revealed that Mahaffey had acute leukemia. His oncologist at the time told him he probably would not live more than a month and a half. That was 30 years ago.

At the time of his diagnosis, only five percent of people with acute leukemia survived, and so most oncologists advised against any kind of treatment. Stunned, scared and confused about what steps to take, he relied on a surgeon friend to guide him in facing his life-threatening predicament.

“The nursing staff was incredible. They took the worst circumstance and really made it work. Maybe you didn’t know their names, but you knew their faces and their touch. That was the most beautiful part of the whole thing.”
— Michael Mahaffey

Mahaffey contacted several hospitals, including one in Texas. None recommended conventional cancer treatment. He tried infusions of vitamin C, but as his symptoms intensified, he realized he needed to get to a hospital.

He chose UC Davis Medical Center. There, he met medical oncologist Frederick Meyers, with whom he felt an immediate connection. Meyers was friendly, approachable and easy to talk to, he says. It helped that UC Davis Medical Center was close to Mahaffey’s home so he could be near family throughout his treatment. It was a perfect fit.

Mahaffey remained hospitalized in the medical center’s intensive care unit for 37 days, treated around the clock with chemotherapy drugs.

"Mr. Mahaffey and I formed a strong partnership, and together we worked out a treatment plan that represented the best approach to his malignancy," says Meyers, now executive associate dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine.

On day 17, Mahaffey spiked a dangerously high fever and nearly died. Today, Mahaffey describes that event as life-changing, a deep spiritual experience that prompted a change in attitude and realization that he no longer needed or wanted his fast-paced lifestyle. Today, he is proud to celebrate 30 years of freedom from alcohol and tobacco use.

Mahaffey is grateful for the amazing nursing staff and doctors who helped save his life, giving him a future he thought he would never have.

“The nursing staff was incredible,” he says. “They took the worst circumstance and really made it work. Maybe you didn’t know their names, but you knew their faces and their touch. That was the most beautiful part of the whole thing.”

Now 72, Mahaffey is enjoying life on his 50-acre farm in northern Washington. When both he and his wife are not running their retreat center teaching women life skills, they are riding their horses in the North Cascade Wilderness Area and enjoying each moment and every opportunity life has given them.

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