A Medical Marvel
Oct 20, 2017 Cedars-Sinai Staff
Scott Erdman doesn't shy away from the word "miracle."
In 1981, he was diagnosed with melanoma. The odds weren't good. He was given 3 years to live. The disease would eventually take a kidney, his spleen, part of his gut, a section of his pancreas, and cause 6 brain tumors. The largest was the size of an orange.
No statistics or data can explain how Erdman has been living for 37 years with this often-fatal form of skin cancer that had spread throughout his body, including his brain. He says it can only be an act of God.
"Pastor's bias," says Scott, who retired from Hollywood Presbyterian after 29 years of service. "We don't know what else it could be."
The aggressive approach to his treatment saved his life more than once. His strong faith and network of support have also played an important role.
"It's not lost on us that he's a pastor," says Keith Black, MD, chair of the Department of Neurosurgery. "In the many thousands of patients I've treated with brain cancer, I've seen how important attitude is to their survival. Whether it's a strong belief that God would provide a solution and that boosted his immune system, or whether it's divine intervention, we don't know. What we do know is, he's doing well today. It makes us believe every day that we can make some difference."
"If we'd followed the textbook, he would not have lived. Our approach at the time was very unconventional. Now, that's become the mainstream treatment."
A turning point in treatment
Scott's cancer first spread to his brain in 1991, a decade after he was diagnosed with melanoma. He had 3 tumors. An orange-sized one on the right frontal lobe, and 2 smaller tumors. At the time, performing surgery on multiple metastatic brain tumors simply wasn't done. Scott was in the hospital and talking to a radiation oncologist about whole brain radiation when Black walked in.
"I don't know why he came in just then," Scott says.
But he was grateful, because it was a turning point in his treatment. The radiation was expected to extend Scott's life another 6 months. Black’s professional opinion ran counter to the common medical wisdom, yet he believed surgery presented an opportunity to buy him more time. In the end, Scott opted for surgery. Black removed the 3 tumors, taking out the smaller ones using focused X-rays.
A year later, another tumor formed in his brain, and Black performed surgery to remove it. Scott's most recent brain tumor was in 2010, and was removed with a Gamma Knife procedure, which delivers focused beams of radiation to brain tumors.
"If we'd followed the textbook, he would not have lived," Black says. "Our approach at the time was very unconventional. Now, that's become the mainstream treatment."
Scott's been seeing Black regularly since that first meeting 27 years ago.
A reason to be here
Scott says he stopped worrying about his cancer early in his treatment, entrusting it to the hands of God and his doctors. He does believe there's a reason he's survived against all odds. He doesn't worry too much about what that reason is.
You could point to his volunteer work at Sherman Oaks Presbyterian—or his work with other cancer patients, offering them support and hope—and suggest that's his purpose.
Scott says he humbly doesn't presume to know God's plan for him. Instead, he focuses on how he can be of service to others.
"I can say that I would not want anybody to go through what I've gone through, but I can tell you that I'm grateful," Scott says of the many challenges life has presented to him. "I'm a different person than I would have been. I know that it's not all about me."