Conquering Cancer: One Patient's Story

Steve Pratt never guessed that a routine check up with his primary care physician at a Boston area hospital would lead to a cancer diagnosis. An avid biker, Steve had always been active and healthy, riding between 150 and 200 miles a week on his road bike.

“I felt great and had no health issues, except for high blood pressure,” explains Steve. “My primary care physician scheduled an appointment for me to come back to check on a new blood pressure medicine I was taking. During the appointment, he asked if I had any other concerns and I mentioned that I noticed some swollen glands but wasn’t feeling sick at all.”

As a precaution, Steve’s physician ordered blood work and a neck CT scan. “I went and had both tests and my blood work came back fine. However, my CT scan showed abnormalities so my doctor scheduled an appointment for me to meet with a surgeon to discuss having a biopsy.”

Cancer Diagnosis
When Steve showed up for his surgical consult, the surgeon shared that he had cancer. 

“I was so shocked to hear the ‘C’ word,” adds Steve. “At that point, no one had explained that they thought I had cancer. It was not the way you want to find out. The surgeon told me he thought I had a blood cancer called lymphoma and then told me that I had to wait a month before I could have a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. The whole situation really unnerved me.”

Steve went home and explained to his wife what had occurred.

“My wife and I both felt that we couldn’t wait a month without knowing. She had a physician friend at Newton-Wellesley Hospital and called him to see if this was standard. After explaining my upsetting experience at another hospital, he urged me to contact a surgeon at Newton-Wellesley.”

Turning to Newton-Wellesley Hospital
Steve called Morton Kahan, MD, and was able to get an appointment to see him in two days.

“When I went to my appointment with Dr. Kahan I had a completely different patient experience. He took the time to talk with me about my options and let me ask questions. Instead of waiting to have my biopsy in the operating room, he gave me the choice to do it with local anesthesia in his office that day, which put my mind at ease.”

Lymphoma is typically a very treatable cancer; however, after performing Steve’s biopsy Dr. Kahan knew that he had an aggressive form.

“When I met with Dr. Kahan after my biopsy, I knew that I had quite the road ahead of me. He shared that the type of cancer I had was actually a very rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma called Mantle Cell Lymphoma.”

Treatment at the Vernon Cancer Center
Dr. Kahan explained to Steve that Newton-Wellesley had a comprehensive cancer center and referred him to Jeffrey S. Wisch, MD, Chief of the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology, Clinical Director of the Vernon Cancer Center and Director of Inpatient Oncology.

Serving Greater Boston communities, The Joan and James Vernon Cancer Center at Newton-Wellesley Hospital offers patients expert cancer care, innovative services and advanced treatment options. The team delivers compassionate care while providing a sense of hope and comfort to patients and their families.

“Steve’s case was especially challenging as there was no one standard approach to his disease and he had a very aggressive lymphoma,” says Dr. Wisch. “We discussed his case at one of our multidisciplinary conferences as well as with our colleagues at other academic institutions because it was clear from the literature that standard chemotherapy alone would not be sufficient to treat this particular lymphoma.”

Chemotherapy
Dr. Wisch and his team then determined that Steve would need chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. Shortly after meeting with Dr. Wisch, Steve began his chemotherapy. His treatment would consist of six chemotherapy sessions – one every three weeks. Because the medicine he was receiving was so potent, Steve had to stay in the Hospital for every other chemo round.

“I experienced some side effects from the chemo like hair loss and fatigue,” adds Steve. “Luckily I never was sick to my stomach. I actually continued to ride a stationary bike through my entire treatment. Even on the days that I felt lousy, I still got on the bike. It was my way of telling cancer ‘You won’t get me down!’” 

Dr. Wisch explains that patients who continue to maintain adequate nutrition and physical activity through their treatment tend to handle the chemo better and experience less fatigue and better emotional well being.

“Steve was an extraordinary patient,” says Dr. Wisch. “He worked hard throughout his treatment to take care of both his physical and emotional health. Biking was a huge part of his life before his diagnosis and it helped him to take part in this activity through his treatment. When we treat patients for cancer, we treat the whole patient. A very important component is helping them cope and maintain a sense of normalcy.”

During his chemo, Steve was impressed with his medical team’s commitment to providing excellent care. “One of the major benefits of receiving my treatment at Newton-Wellesley was having the convenience and comfort of a community hospital, with access to a prestigious downtown hospital. From the beginning Dr. Wisch’s only priority was my well being. It was obvious from the moment I met him and his team. The level of care I received at Newton-Wellesley was outstanding. Every member of the team treated me like family. It takes a special person to be involved in cancer care, but they were all so hopeful and created such an intimate experience for me.”

Bone Marrow Transplant
After Steve completed his chemo, Dr. Wisch coordinated his bone marrow transplant at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“We collaborated very closely with our colleagues at MGH where Steve received his transplant,” adds Dr. Wisch. “In cases like this, patients receive their pre-transplant care at the Vernon Cancer Center and then return for post-transplant care and follow up. Transitions are seamless since we are all part of the same health care system with excellent communication between institutions.”

After his successful bone marrow transplant in April, Steve was eager to get back on his bike.

Back on the Bike
“I started walking every day, and then moved slowly towards running,” says Steve. “Once I was feeling more in shape, I got back on the bike. By the end of May I was riding 100 miles a week and I totaled 500 miles for the month of June. It felt great to be back out there. I decided that I would ride the Pan Mass Challenge – an 192-mile cancer fundraising ride from Sturbridge to Provincetown.”

Steve rode his first Pan Mass that year and has now completed the ride three times raising more than 15,000 dollars. He has been in remission for four years and continues to have a routine check up every six months at Newton-Wellesley.

“After you have cancer you learn to live a different kind of life; it’s never the same,” explains Steve. “I have a very different sense of gratitude and appreciation. I’m alive and healthy right now and I’m very grateful for that and the team at Newton-Wellesley who got me to this place. I’m happy for today, because really that’s all any of us have.”

For more information about the Vernon Cancer Center at Newton- Wellesley Hospital, call CareFinder at 1-866-NWH-DOCS (694-3627) or visit www.nwh.org/cancer. 

Morton Kahan, MD

Surgeon at Newton-Wellesley Hospital
Dr. Kahan received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School. He completed his residency and fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Dr. Kahan is board certified in surgery. 

Jeffrey S. Wisch, MD

Chief of the Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology, Clinical Director of the Vernon Cancer Center, and Director of Inpatient Oncology at Newton-Wellesley Hospital
Dr. Wisch received his medical degree from Mount Sinai School of Medicine and completed his residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He completed fellowships in hematology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and medical oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Dr. Wisch is board certified in internal medicine, hematology and medical oncology fellowship.

 

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10/27: Community Forum on Ebola Preparedness

Medical experts from Newton-Wellesley, the city of Newton, and Mass General will present about ebola, with a Q&A session. Mon, Oct. 27, NWH Shipley Auditorium - 7:00 to  8:30 pm
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