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Mark Balderas: How Family and Faith Gave Him the Strength To Fight

Mark Balderas

“Cancer was not what I expected going in. It was a real shock. Thankfully, with the prayers and support of my family, as well as my team at Texas Oncology who understood what I was going through, I knew I was going to get through this.”

Mark Balderas
Renal Cancer

Mark Balderas and his family have lived in Round Rock since 1977. He and his wife, Linda, have been married 39 years and have three daughters and five grandchildren. The pair spend much of their time working at their family’s restaurant, Tio Dan Café.

In March 2016, Mark, 58, bought himself a brand-new Harley-Davidson motorcycle which he named ‘Priscilla.’ The very next day, he was diagnosed with stage IV kidney cancer.

While family and faith have always played a significant role in Mark’s life, he is now an even more fervent believer in the power of the two to overcome the most difficult of odds.

‘Not what I expected’

Mark had been having pain on the left side of his chest for some time. Despite a number of tests, his primary care doctors could not determine the cause, so they chalked it up to muscular pain. However, a CT scan later revealed a mass on Mark’s right kidney that was traveling up the vein leading to his heart.

“This is not what I expected going in. It was a real shock,” recalls Mark. “I always thought I would die from a heart attack, not cancer.”

In April 2016, Mark underwent an operation to remove his right kidney and started his treatment plan, including a combination of oral medication and infusion treatments.

‘They were the ones to help me get through this’

One year after his diagnosis, Mark’s insurance changed, and he needed to find a new provider to continue his cancer care. That’s when he found Hareesha Vemuganti, M.D., hematologist and medical oncologist at Texas Oncology– Round Rock North. The moment he walked in, Mark immediately felt at ease.

“She understood what I was going through, and I knew Texas Oncology was going to be the right choice to help me get through this,” he said.

Mark knew that everyone was in this fight with him, from his family and friends to the entire team at Texas Oncology.

“They were by my side praying for me and supporting me. I didn’t feel alone,” said Mark.

With Dr. Vemuganti, Mark continued to receive infusions along with immunotherapy, a treatment that uses the body’s own defense mechanisms and immune system to attack cancer cells. Unlike traditional targeted cancer, immunotherapy aims to stop or slow cancer cell growth by aiding the immune system in destroying cancerous cells.

“Immune checkpoint inhibitor-based therapy has revolutionized the natural history of metastatic renal cell carcinoma, providing better survival outcomes, higher rates of complete response, and durable remissions,” said Dr. Vemuganti. “Less than 10 percent of patients achieve complete responses, and Mark has been one of them.”

‘We aren’t seeing anything’

After a routine scan, Dr. Vemuganti found no additional signs of cancer on his scans. They were clear.

“After his kidney removal, Mark’s cancer was still in his lungs in the form of lung nodules,” said Dr. Vemuganti. “Once we initiated immunotherapy, Mark had an extremely successful response with very few side effects, and the nodules completely disappeared.”

Mark received immunotherapy for over two years as a form of maintenance and is now closely monitored by his care team.

“I am so excited for Mark and for his continued progress,” said Dr. Vemuganti.

‘Enjoy life’

Dr. Vemuganti often reminds Mark to “get out and enjoy life.” Six years after being diagnosed, Mark makes it a point to pause and take it all in. He continues to work at his family’s restaurant, and you can always find him surrounded by his family.

He’s even started to travel again. Mark and Linda will celebrate 40 years of marriage in August and are planning a trip to Hawaii—something that seemed impossible just a few short years ago.

As for ‘Priscilla,’ his motorcycle, Mark finally took her out of the garage and for a ride. As expected, it filled him with joy.

The information included in this testimonial is based on one patient’s unique experience and is not intended to represent all patient outcomes or expectations.