Getting to Overtime: Ivan’s Story

Ivan Marquez has been director of athletics at Concordia College in Bronxville, New York, for 20 years. For nine of those years, Ivan has been living with prostate cancer. At the time of his diagnosis — before he was even 40 years old — Ivan’s disease was already locally advanced, meaning that it had spread to the area surrounding the prostate gland. For a time after Memorial Sloan Kettering radiation oncologist Marisa A. Kollmeier delivered a course of radiation to Ivan’s prostate gland and the surrounding area, the disease remained under control and localized. But eventually the cancer began to spread and is now in his bones.

Medical Oncologist Michael J. Morris and Ivan Marquez
Medical oncologist Michael J. Morris and Ivan Marquez

However, neither Ivan nor his MSK team, led by medical oncologist Michael J. Morris, have ever had any ideas about giving up, and indeed treatment has controlled his disease so that he can continue to enjoy his life and his work. “I celebrate every day,” says Ivan. “When I can get up and can do something for someone else, that’s a good day.”
Dr. Morris specializes in treating men with prostate cancer, particularly those whose disease has metastasized to other organs or who are at high risk of metastasis. “I’ve devoted my research career to finding new and better ways to prolong the lives of men with metastatic prostate cancer,” he says. “For many men whose cancer has spread, we can offer an array of approaches, combining whatever therapies are necessary to control the disease and its symptoms — and we’re developing more and better therapies all the time.”

The Jimmy Game 

In the fall of 2007, a friendly, hardworking student-athlete from Scarsdale, New York, joined the men’s basketball team at Concordia. Jimmy Sayegh, a six-foot-nine basketball player at nearby Edgemont High School, successfully juggled academics, athletics, and health challenges — he too had cancer. Tragically, in the spring of 2010, this promising young man died.
Ivan decided that he and the Concordia community needed to do something to help support the fight against cancer. Through his efforts, the Jimmy Game was born. Now in its sixth year, the Concordia men’s basketball team dedicates this annual game, which raises funds for Dr. Morris’s cancer research, to Jimmy’s memory.

“Jimmy’s wonderful core values inspire us to honor him by raising funds for cancer research,” says Ivan. “In my nine years as a survivor, a slew of new and more-effective medications have been created because of the resources Jimmy helped us acquire. As long as I am around, we are going to honor Jimmy every year.”

Patient as Partner

During the course of his treatment at MSK, Ivan has participated in a number of different clinical trials. MSK’s research program, with more than 100 clinical scientists and laboratory investigators studying the basic biology of prostate cancer, means that physicians are often able to offer men at all clinical states of disease access to clinical trials of new treatments, sometimes years before they’re widely available. These trials test new drugs and drug combinations, surgical and radiation therapy techniques, innovative diagnostic technologies, and strategies for preserving quality of life for men undergoing treatment.
“Ivan would be the first to recognize someone else as being a hero, but he is really the hero,” says Dr. Morris. “He’s an extraordinary man who’s turned his personal situation into an opportunity to help others. He has partnered with us in trials to help make prostate cancer a disease that — even if we can’t cure it — we can effectively control it and offer patients a good quality of life. Our aim is not only to have people live longer but also live better.”
Dr. Morris points out that cancer research — and prostate cancer research in particular — is currently in a period in which “the science is there, the clinical researchers are there, and the drugs are multiplying. If you look at just the past four years, five drugs for prostate cancer that didn’t exist before have been shown to prolong survival for men like Ivan.” It’s a fruitful and productive moment, he adds, “and to have Ivan as a collaborator is a privilege for us as doctors, researchers, and nurses. He has been able to look forward, beyond himself, and put himself in a position in which his own care will ultimately provide the knowledge that will help people he’ll probably never know. There is really no gift greater than that. We feel truly humbled by his commitment and his sacrifice.”
Ivan returns the compliment by saying that “taking the train to see Dr. Morris and his team is the most wonderful trip I take. Athletes need good coaches, and that’s the secret of Dr. Morris’s care — he has coached me through this journey. Memorial Sloan Kettering is where I call home.”
Ivan acknowledges that there are physical obstacles caused by his disease. He can no longer jog long distances, although on beautiful days he tries to get in a walk; it is sometimes difficult to stand for extended periods of time; and he has difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. But Ivan continues to work and, he says, “Carpe diem is my motto — seize the day. I feel like I’m in a game and I’m in the fourth quarter and I’m just trying to get to overtime.” He smiles broadly. “And if I can get to double overtime, even better!”
Learn more or donate to the sixth annual Jimmy Sayegh Game to support Dr. Morris’s prostate cancer research.