When 76-year-old Dr. Arthur Hamberger reflects on his 50-year career as a physician, the first thing that comes to mind are his patients. While each patient’s story is different, they all share something in common – their admirable courage and resilience in the face of adversity. The same thing can also be said of their physician who courageously has survived cancer not once, but five times.
As a boy growing up in the New York City Housing Projects in Rockaway Beach, Hamberger dreamed of becoming a physician one day, but he didn’t know that his calling would be providing care to patients with cancer. After graduating from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in The Bronx, NY in 1969, Hamberger completed an internship and residency program in internal medicine. During that period, a life event would change the direction of his career.
“I was diagnosed with testicular cancer near the end of my first year of residency in internal medicine,” said Hamberger. “I was 25 years old with a young wife and a five-month-old daughter. I underwent surgery followed by four weeks of postoperative irradiation. While receiving treatment, I became interested in radiation therapy and decided to become a radiation oncologist.”
After gaining board certification in internal medicine, Hamberger began a three-year fellowship program at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX.
“I never thought my family and I would end up becoming proud Texans,” said Hamberger. “We came to Houston in June 1972 when our older daughter was a year-and-a-half. Originally, I thought we would spend three years in Houston and return to New York after I completed my fellowship. However, my mother had died of complications after cancer surgery three months before I was diagnosed with cancer, and five months after we moved to Houston, my father died suddenly of a heart attack. Having no family obligations to draw us back to New York, we decided to remain in Houston.”
Dr. Hamberger went on to work at MD Anderson for ten years as a tenured professor of radiation oncology and director of the radiotherapy training program. While at MD Anderson, he was recruited to direct a new radiotherapy department at Memorial City General Hospital, now Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center.
“While at Memorial City, Memorial Healthcare System [now Memorial Hermann Health System] approached us about directing the radiation therapy department at its Southwest location in addition to opening a second department at the Greater Heights location,” Hamberger said. “In 1990, we moved with our staff to these two facilities after spending nine years at Memorial City. Three years later, when Memorial City became part of Memorial Hermann, we returned to that location as well.”
Hamberger enjoyed working at Memorial Hermann – he loved his patients and appreciated the loyalty of his staff and the comradery of his medical colleagues. Several employees started their careers in Houston with him and worked with him until he retired.
As Hamberger prepared for retirement, he spent three years working part-time at Memorial Hermann, filling in for vacationing physicians, until 2019. During his years of semi-retirement, however, he also faced serious illnesses. In 2017, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and a type of lymphoma. Ever the optimist, Hamberger tried not to dwell on the things over which he had no control. After all, that was the advice he gave his patients when they hit a rough patch in their cancer journey.
But just before Thanksgiving in 2018, Hamberger noticed the faintest tinge of blood in his urine. A CT scan revealed that he had a bladder tumor. During treatment for that, another CT scan revealed a mass in his pancreas.
“A biopsy showed pancreatic carcinoma; the fourth cancer in less than two years,” Hamberger said. “With the approval of my surgeon, I decided first to undergo robotic surgery in February 2019 to remove half of my pancreas and my spleen.”
After the pancreatic surgery, Hamberger received a newly approved regimen of adjuvant chemotherapy for six months. Although the three-drug combination had potentially life-threatening side effects, he tolerated the treatment remarkably well and continued to exercise at his health club during that time. He credits his wife for taking care of him during his treatments, and to this day, he continues to stick to all routine follow-up care.
“My last follow-up CT scans in August 2021 more clearly demonstrated a small tumor in the lower pole of my right kidney,” said Hamberger. “There’s a 60 percent chance it may be cancerous. In retrospect, since the tumor hasn’t changed size in four years, my doctors are just monitoring it for now. So this could be number six.”
Despite multiple cancer diagnoses, Hamberger continues to celebrate life with his wife of 53 years. They love to travel together, enjoy the theater and the arts, and spend time with their children and grandchildren. Hamberger is also hoping to turn his cancer journey into something positive to give hope to other patients who are facing similar challenges.
Hamberger became a volunteer for CanCare and Memorial Hermann Hospital Greater Heights, where he talks one-on-one with cancer patients, not as a physician, but as a cancer survivor who understands and knows what they are going through.
“I want them to know they are not alone,” said Hamberger. “Now that I am retired, my calling in life is to help other cancer patients cope with their diagnosis, to cope with side effects of treatment, stay strong and keep a positive attitude. Pancreatic cancer is not a great cancer to have, and I know that I am not out of the woods yet. Fortunately, I am good at compartmentalizing problems so that I am not constantly preoccupied with them. I choose to be positive and continue to live life to the fullest.”