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Mike Flanagan: Acting Teacher’s Character Shines Through Following Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis

In 2018, Houston native Mike Flanagan and his wife, Melanie, were living in New York City, where Mike worked in theater. He was in a field he loved, but he wasn’t doing what he wanted to do – help shape young actors.

Mike landed a professorship at Houston Community College, a perfect fit in a city where he and Melanie had friends and family.

“I moved across the country because I wanted to love what I was doing for a living, and I wanted to teach acting,” Mike said. “When the COVID-19 pandemic kicked in, everyone stayed home. As the world opened up again, I was diagnosed with cancer. The whole purpose of moving to Houston kept getting knocked back a bit.”

Familiar Symptoms, Unexpected Diagnosis

In 2021, when Mike began having difficult bowel movements and noticed blood in his stool, he thought of one thing – hemorrhoids. He’d dealt with these uncomfortable, swollen rectal veins in his 20s, and he didn’t think he needed to seek medical help right away. When he finally did, his primary care provider (PCP) confirmed that hemorrhoids were present but didn’t seem to be causing his symptoms. The PCP referred Mike to Texas Colon & Rectal Specialists-Webster.

“The first person I saw was physician assistant Ashley Ray, M.S., MPH, PA-C,” Mike said. “She performed a physical exam and noticed a rectal tumor.”

Within two days, Mike saw Theodoros Voloyiannis, M.D., FACS, FASCRS, colon and rectal surgeon at Texas Colon & Rectal Specialists-Webster confirmed Ashley’s finding. Dr. Voloyiannis performed a colonoscopy to obtain a sample of the tumor. The sample showed Mike, then 44 years old, had rectal cancer.

“I knew as much about cancer as anyone else who’s never dealt with it,” Mike said. “My grandfather had lung cancer when I was a kid. Other than that, my cancer knowledge was based on TV shows and movies. Initially, I wondered whether I would be alive in two weeks. I didn’t know what cancer does. That’s what was going through my mind – the uncertainty of the timeline.”

Treatment Lessons

Initially, Mike was set to have chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery to remove the tumor. A genetic test, however, forced a change of course.

“The results showed no genetic history of rectal cancer, but a genetic disorder that puts me at high risk for skin cancer,” Mike said. “The medical team was concerned that radiation treatment could give me skin cancer, so they decided not to perform radiation.”

During the first few months of 2022, Mike received eight rounds of chemotherapy at Texas Oncology–Pearland, just a 10-minute drive from his home. Tongue in cheek, he described the treatment as “about as much fun as everyone says it is.” He experienced nausea, late-night hiccups, neuropathy, and tiredness, but Melanie and his medical team helped him through it all.

Most meaningful to Mike, the Texas Oncology team designed his treatment schedule so he could stay in the classroom.

“I never had to get chemotherapy in the middle of the week and go into the next day standing in a room teaching acting,” Mike said. “I was able to loop my treatments around weekends. That was the difference between being able to work and not being able to work. Putting together a schedule like that with Texas Oncology was huge. It let me do what I moved across the country to do.”

“I was able to live my life at work and at home as well,” he said. “Melanie and I were able to plan dinners and visits with friends, to just live, because Texas Oncology created a treatment schedule we could work around.”

Keeping Joy Center Stage

In June 2022, with the cancer at stage III, Dr. Voloyiannis performed surgery to remove the rectal tumor.

“Following surgery, I had four more rounds of chemotherapy, which ended in September,” Mike said. “Afterward, CT and positron emission tomography scans revealed there were still cancer cells hanging around in my abdomen, some areas of bone, a couple of ribs, and a vertebra.”

In late 2022, Mike started what was expected to be four additional rounds of chemotherapy to try to destroy the remaining pockets of cancer.

“One of the letdowns of the initial four post-surgery chemotherapy treatments is that, basically, they didn’t work,” he said. “That was disappointing. At this point, any level of improvement would be good news.”

With his cancer fight ongoing, Mike has a positive attitude – and a lot to look forward to, including directing a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the spring.

“I’m lucky to have a great support network of friends and family,” Mike said. “My wife is fantastic, and my friends are great. I learned early on to just tell everyone what’s going on so I’m not hiding anything.”

Talking with a therapist helps Mike work through the emotions of living with cancer.

“I’ve learned it’s OK to have an emotional reaction and that I don’t always have to be brave and strong,” Mike said. “My attitude is greatly helped by the support of my family, friends, and colleagues, and by going to therapy. I’m taking each day as it comes and hoping for the best possible outcomes.”

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.