When Michael Deming was diagnosed with a complex form of skin cancer, he was told he wouldn’t survive surgery.

He turned to Regional One Health Cancer Care and Dr. Neil Hayes. As an expert in Michael’s diagnosis, Dr. Hayes was able to provide immunotherapy, an advanced treatment option.

Now, Michael is back to the things he loves, including spending time with his family, reading, and enjoying a weekly lunch and The Rendezvous.

At 86, Michael Deming has lived a life full of adventures and accomplishments.

Serving in the U.S. Air Force. Earning multiple degrees from Memphis State. Learning Spanish and becoming a member of Mensa. Teaching his little girl to throw a perfect spiral. Reading the mysteries, westerns and Hemingway novels that line his study.

And, in true Memphis style, stopping by The Rendezvous every Friday for lunch.

Now, thanks to expert care from Regional One Health Cancer Care medical oncologist Dr. Neil Hayes, Michael will continue to be fixture at the legendary BBQ joint and enjoy a life well lived.

For Michael’s daughter Michelle Gibson, having more time with her dad is a gift.

“It’s just the two of us. My dad was an only child, my mom was an only child, I’m an only child, and my daughter is an only child,” Michelle said. “My mom passed away two years ago, and my dad and I are very close. I can’t imagine a better dad than him. I’m so thankful to Dr. Hayes.”

Michael was healthy his whole life until a skin cancer diagnosis in 2021. When the cancer returned, he needed surgery and radiation: “The radiation was awful,” Michelle said. “It almost killed him. We didn’t think he’d make it.”

Less than a year later, Michael went to the emergency room for a lesion on his chest. He was diagnosed with a skin infection, but when antibiotics did nothing, he went to see his oncologist.

It was another skin cancer.

They consulted a surgeon, who described a grueling procedure involving cutting into Michael’s muscles. “His doctor said he would not survive that surgery. It scared us to death,” Michelle said.

Dr. Neil Hayes said Regional One Health’s expertise allows for advanced treatment options. “We’re proud to be a regional center of expertise for patients with rare cancers,” he said. “Our goal isn’t just to provide the best care in Memphis – our goal is to be the best in the state and the region.”

Michael’s doctor convened a meeting with a multidisciplinary team to discuss options. In that meeting was Dr. Hayes.

Dr. Hayes is one of the nation’s most experienced head & neck cancer experts and a leader in the national organization that designs clinical trials for the disease. As such, he can offer advanced treatments that patients may not find elsewhere, including for rare, complex diagnoses.

“In rare cases, aggressive skin cancers can get to a point where the tumor is too extensive to do surgery,” Dr. Hayes said. “At one point, almost nothing worked. Patients had been through multiple lines of therapy, and they were really out of options.”

“It was a difficult position to be in – until the onset of immunotherapy.”

After examining Michael, Dr. Hayes determined that immunotherapy, which uses a person’s own immune system to fight cancer, was Michael’s best option. “He was nearing a point of having a life-threatening progression of his cancer,” Dr. Hayes said. “Immunotherapy is highly effective, and it’s generally well tolerated with a very low risk of complications.”

The decision paid off. “After the fourth treatment, the cancer was almost gone,” Michelle said. “After eight treatments, it was completely gone. His CT a few months ago was completely clear. I have no doubt daddy wouldn’t have made it without that immunotherapy. It’s a miracle.”

Through it all, Dr. Hayes made sure the family was supported.

“He’s very calm and reassuring,” Michelle said. “He was always positive. He has a personality that makes you feel like everything’s going to be alright.”

For Dr. Hayes, it’s rewarding to bring advanced treatment options to Memphis.

Previously, patients with rare head & neck cancers had to travel for care or potentially endure disfiguring surgeries that have a significant social, professional and functional impact.

Michael Deming has had a life full of accomplishments, including serving in the Air Force, joining Mensa, and teaching his daughter to throw a perfect spiral. “I can’t imagine a better dad than him,” his daughter Michelle says. “I’m so thankful to Dr. Hayes.”

Thanks to the multidisciplinary team and resources at Regional One Health Cancer Care, “We have the ability to offer a non-surgical option for some patients, which can be game-changing,” Dr. Hayes said. “If you’re in a place that’s not familiar with these newer therapies, you may not be offered these options. You need treatment from a team that is familiar with the disease and has a comfort level with all the treatment options.”

Dr. Hayes can offer that and more.

His expertise allows him to provide newer treatments like immunotherapy, while his leadership in research includes plans to study using immunotherapy earlier in the treatment process so more patients can avoid difficult surgeries. He hopes to bring those trials to Regional One Health to continue improving access to world-class oncology care for Mid-South patients.

Michelle is grateful her dad is one of them. “Dr. Hayes helped save my dad’s life – there’s no question about it,” she said. “And he just loves daddy!”

It’s hard not to. “My dad is the coolest person in the world,” Michelle said. “He worked as a pharmaceutical rep for years. He looks like Clint Eastwood. He loves football. He’s a gun collector and avid reader, and he likes puzzles and things that keep your brain sharp. He still drives, goes to the store, and fixes his own meals.”

He’s also an incredible dad.

“When I was 3, there was an article in the newspaper with me and my dad. He taught me Spanish and how to write and read, and in the picture, I’m saying, ‘Come on daddy, let’s read,’” Michelle recalls. “I’ve always been a daddy’s girl. We’ve done everything together all our life.”

That will continue for Michael and Michelle, and Dr. Hayes and his team look forward to sharing the gift of time with more families in our community.

“We’re proud to be a regional center of expertise for patients with rare cancers, and to help patients from across the Mid-South,” Dr. Hayes said. “Our goal isn’t just to provide the best care in Memphis – our goal is to be the best in the state and the region.”

Learn more at www.regionalonehealth.org/cancer-care/ or by calling 901-515-HOPE (4673).