Editor’s Letter: Cancer Boys

When two survivors met a man working to eradicate the disease, the result was magic.

Editor's Letter: Cancer Boys

I love a good story, and I cherish an arresting photograph. Every year, some of the best photos we publish are of the Distinguished Alumnus Award winners. We turn to top photographers to capture their likenesses, and in recent years we have had a string of really outstanding artists lend their talents to making these alumni look their best. Michael O’Brien’s jaw-dropping photo of 2012 winner Laura Bush, MLS ’73, and Jeff Wilson’s of 2014 winner astronaut Karen Nyberg, MS ’96, PhD ’98, are two of my favorites.

This year, we hired veteran Austin photographer Wyatt McSpadden to shoot the 2015 recipients. One of those six excellent alumni is Jim Allison, BS ’69, PhD ’73, who has developed one of the most promising new methods for treating melanoma, a skin cancer that strikes 73,000 Americans per year and is often fatal if not caught early.

Turns out that Wyatt and Jim know each other. In 2011, Wyatt was diagnosed with lymphoepithelioma. He went to MD Anderson, where Jim works, for his treatment. In the capable hands of the experts there, Wyatt made a full recovery, and now, five years later, he remains cancer-free. Wyatt’s good friend and assistant, Will Phillips, is also a cancer survivor. He too was treated at MD Anderson, and in the eight years since he has maintained a clean bill of health. Wyatt shot Jim in 2012 for the cover of MD Anderson’s Conquest magazine and again earlier this year after Jim won the Lasker Award, the country’s most prestigious award for clinical medical research.

“We’ve done lots of work at MDA over the last dozen years,” Wyatt says, “which has become more meaningful after being successfully treated there. I like to think that success has to do with the fact that MDA is doing far-reaching research, and Dr. Allison is at the outer edge of that work.”

At this year’s shoot, Wyatt and Will asked Jim if they could, the three of them, pose for a photo together: two survivors and a foremost cancer researcher. The result is the image above. There’s such joy in each of their faces, a joy to life. Their elation shines even brighter when you know the story behind their smiles. In the email Wyatt sent me, he captioned the photo: “Three happy boys.” Make that four.

Happy reading,

Tim Taliaferro



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