It was Christmas Day 2011, when Maria Floyd received the call she’d been urgently awaiting. She’d placed a request to Ashish Kamat, M.D., associate professor of Urology at MD Anderson, asking to discuss her cancer.
“Maria had been diagnosed with small cell carcinoma of the bladder, a rare and aggressive type of bladder cancer,” says Ray Floyd, her husband of almost 40 years. “We’d just finished an extensive tour of four of the most well-respected hospitals in the country. We were looking for the best partner we could find to help Maria. She had friends who’d beaten cancer at MD Anderson, and she wanted to get one more opinion from the doctor there as well.”
Kamat had reviewed tests Maria had undergone at other hospitals and recommended the Floyds start treatment as soon as possible. The cancer had begun to spread, and waiting to start treatment would only decrease her chance of survival. She flew to MD Anderson and was admitted Dec. 27 to undergo chemotherapy.
“I explained to Maria the treatment options and that her tumor was an aggressive variant that had metastasized,” says Kamat. “Maria told me, ‘Even if there’s only a 2% chance that I’ll get through this fight, I’ll give it all I’ve got.’”
Ray Floyd credits Maria with his outstanding success as a member of the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA).
“I had two careers: the one before I met Maria, and the one after. She had a huge impact on my career and supported me during my many years on the PGA tour,” he says.
Over the next several months, with Ray now in the supportive role, Maria endured round after round of extremely intense, inpatient chemotherapy at MD Anderson. It was an aggressive approach to fight an aggressive form of cancer.
“The goal of chemotherapy was to shrink her tumor so she could be fortunate enough to consider surgery,” says Kamat. “Maria had to have a positive response to chemotherapy before we could take the next step, which was radical cystectomy. The couple’s approach to her treatment was like Ray’s approach to playing in a tournament. They would tackle one hole, or in their case, one stage of treatment at a time.”
Maria fought her way through chemotherapy, administered by Arlene Odelia Siefker-Radtke, M.D. associate professor of Genitourinary Medical Oncology. The next stage of treatment prior to surgery was a clinical trial, prophylactic radiation treatment of the brain. Chemotherapy is designed not to reach the brain, and the doctors wanted to give Maria the best chance for beating her cancer.
“Ms. Floyd sailed through this part of the treatment without once complaining,” says Kamat.
Kamat then removed the cancerous bladder and reconstructed her urinary tract. The pathology results were excellent – there was no viable tumor in the bladder.
A dedicated advocate
Even during her treatment, Maria refused to stop supporting her many charitable commitments, such as the Par 3 Golf Course, in her hometown of Palm Beach, and the PGA Tour Wives Association, which benefits needy children and their families through charitable events. To promote bladder cancer awareness, she and Ray established an annual research award through the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network, and she spoke at the organization’s annual conference.
Routine follow-up visits to MD Anderson revealed no cancer, but in April 2012, Maria contacted Kamat complaining of headaches. An MRI revealed, despite the radiation treatment, the cancer had metastasized to her brain and spread to her spine. She immediately began more chemotherapy, continuing her advocacy for bladder cancer until her death on Sept. 7.
A gift of friendship
Kamat’s family and the Floyds became close friends during Maria’s treatment. They worked together to create awareness of bladder cancer and discussed the need to fund research to help other patients. Shortly after Maria’s death, Ray reached out to Kamat with important news.
“I was on vacation with my family and received a text from Ray asking me to give him a call,” says Kamat. “Ray said he’d decided to make a $1 million pledge to support my research. I was completely surprised by the gift.”
Ray hopes the donation will touch patients’ lives in a specific way.
“This is my way of continuing Maria’s fight,” he says. “My hope is that my friend Ashish will use this donation to discover a way to reduce the suffering from this disease and help patients avoid the ravages of chemotherapy and its impact on the body.”