Giving Back to The Hospital That Gave A Family So Much

Guest Blog By: Deb Montgomery, University of Maryland Children’s Hospital Parent

My daughter, Neriah, has had many varied health issues over the course of her childhood, including severe asthma, allergies, gastrointenstinal issues, and more. We have been blessed to have her under the care of several of the doctors in the Pediatric Specialty Clinic at the University of Maryland Childnre’s Hospital (UMCH). During the past several years, we’ve been through a multitude of appointments, testing, and hospitalizations.

As you can imagine, this has been really hard, and especially heartbreaking to see all that our little girl had to endure. Good care from doctors and nurses helped, but it was hard to keep positive and distract our sweet girl from all of the pain and discomfort. In some of the toughest medical tests and hospitalizations, we were introduced to the Child Life program.

Through that, she was given some toys and crafts to keep her busy, and distract her a bit from what was going on. It was such a help to have someone else “on our side”, trying to make the whole hospital ordeal a more positive experience for our little girl! When she got home from different times in the hospital, she would show her sisters some crafts that she made, or little presents she got to keep. She never told stories about the hard stuff, but she focused on those fun, positive memories! We really appreciate the positive memories that she has of the hospital, through the Child Life program.

It’s because of that, that we would like to help more children in the hospital to go home with some positive memories! We know how much it means to get some help at some of the hardest times. Our little girl loves to read, and we are having a book drive to raise money to buy Usborne books and more for the Child Life program to give to kids at UMCH. Usborne books are really engaging and interactive, and would really help to bring some joy to a child in the hospital. Usborne will match your donation at 50%, so we’ll be able to get even more books to the children! Click through the link below to donate to the fundraiser, to take part in giving some wonderful books to children in the hospital at UMCH!
Click here to support Provide books to children in the hospital at UMCH

Maternal Mental Health Matters

MAY 3, 2017 IS WORLD MATERNAL MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS DAY
#maternalMHmatters

Today is World Maternal Mental Health Awareness Day, and we’re helping to bring attention to an important health issue and available treatment options.

Worldwide, as many as one in five women experience some type of perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD). PMADs include postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder and others.

“There is still this myth that pregnancy is blissful and if you don’t enjoy pregnancy and having your baby, there’s something wrong with you,” says Patricia Widra, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry with the University of Maryland School of Medicine and a psychiatrist at University of Maryland Medical Center.

“But fifteen to twenty percent of women have this experience, and there are ways to treat it.”

Because of the stigma that often surrounds mental health disorders, many women hide or downplay their symptoms. Not getting support or treatment can have a devastating impact on the woman affected as well as on her partner and family. It’s important to treat a PMAD like any other health problem so that families can thrive.

“Most people don’t realize it, but post-partum depression (PPD) is the most common serious complication after delivery,” says Dr. Widra.

Women whose pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth often experience not only grief but also postpartum depression. In addition, giving birth to a premature child, or having a child spend extended time in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can also take a toll on a mother’s mental health.

Why is PMAD so prevalent? “We don’t know,” says Dr. Widra. “Part of it is depression in women in this age group is already more prevalent than in men anyway, even without pregnancy. Pregnancy is a major change-of-life event. Sometimes a woman doesn’t have enough social or financial support or doesn’t have a partner. Hormonal changes also have an effect – this is where a lot of current research is focusing. Somehow these shifts seem to trigger PMADs. We don’t know specifically why it happens in some people and not others.”

Symptoms of PMAD can appear any time during pregnancy and the first 12 months after childbirth. The good news is there are effective and well-researched treatment options available to help women recover.

“It’s important that a woman is medically screened for a mood or anxiety disorder at least once during her pregnancy – preferably in the second or third trimester,” says Dr. Widra. “Just as we screen women for diabetes and thyroid disorders during pregnancy, it is just as critical to screen for mood and anxiety disorders. Currently this is not the standard of care. There is a lot of push federally and in Maryland to make it the standard.”

What you can do: If you are a new mom, be aware of how you’re feeling, and seek help if you’re experiencing symptoms of PMAD. If you know someone who is a new mom, ask her how she is really feeling and encourage her to seek help if she needs it.

“Some women think that because they’re discouraged from taking most medications during pregnancy that there isn’t anything their doctor can do to help with an anxiety or mood disorder,” says Dr. Widra. This is not the case. “We now have research to show that there are non-medical treatments that are evidence-based to help women with mental health problems during pregnancy. It’s also considered relatively safe to use some antidepressants during pregnancy.” The bottom line, says Dr. Widra, is there are effective medical and non-medical treatment options available to women even during pregnancy.

Life changes around pregnancy make women more vulnerable to mental illness. Mental healthcare provides the necessary support to empower women to identify resources and personal capabilities. This can enhance their resilience to difficult life circumstances and support them to nurture their children optimally. Caring for mothers is a positive intervention for long-term social development.

Here are some mental health tips for women during their reproductive years:

  • If you are feeling blue, anxious or depressed, don’t wait. Talk to your doctor or a mental health professional about it as soon as possible.
  • If you’re taking medications for a mood or anxiety disorder and you become pregnant, don’t stop taking them without talking to a mental health professional.
  • Eating well, regular exercise, and a good night’s sleep are important during this period of your life as they are at any time in your life.
  • Do things that are good for brain health such as meditation and yoga.
  • If you have a history of depression, be proactive and aware of any signs and symptoms.

For more information or to make an appointment with a doctor who specializes in women’s emotional health and reproductive psychiatry, call 410-328-6091.

Fertility: 12 things you didn’t know (and 1 to never ask)

By Katrina Mark, MD

1. Fertility naturally declines as we age

That alone doesn’t mean you should start to worry. The general advice I give a woman is if she has been trying to become pregnant for a full year with no luck, she might consider a fertility evaluation. For a woman over age 35, she might consider it after six months. If a woman is younger and has irregular periods, it’s likely she isn’t regularly ovulating, so she might want to be evaluated sooner.

2. Sometimes there’s a reason for infertility – and sometimes, there’s not

There are some things we know cause infertility. About 20 percent of the time, we find no reason for it. For a woman, infertility can be due to a condition that causes you to not ovulate regularly such as diabetes, thyroid disease and polycystic ovaries. It can also be caused by blocked fallopian tubes or a history of ectopic pregnancy. For men, it can be due to semen issues such as a low sperm count.

Early menopause in women under the age of 40 is rare, but it can run in families and cause infertility. Lifestyle factors such as smoking and obesity contribute to infertility in both women and men.

3. Taking birth control for long periods of time does not hurt fertility

No, taking birth control stops you from getting pregnant, but it doesn’t hurt fertility once you stop taking them.

4. If you are having trouble conceiving, consider these culprits:

  • Lifestyle factors: If you smoke, try to quit. If you are obese, try to lose weight. Vigorous exercise and low body weight can also cause ovary issues. Marathon runners and gymnasts have this issue frequently. Luckily, increasing body fat percentage or decreasing exercise a small amount can often correct it.
  • Chronic conditions: If you suffer from a chronic condition such as diabetes or hypertension, make sure you are managing it and keeping it under control.
  • Ovulation issues: For women who aren’t ovulating regularly, the first line is usually Clomid, a pill that makes a woman’s body produce eggs and ovulate each month. Many OB-GYNs will prescribe this, so you don’t necessarily need to see a fertility specialist.

If there’s no known reason trouble conceiving, your OB-GYN may refer you to a fertility specialist for treatment. Fertility specialists and even some OB-GYNs perform intrauterine insemination (IUI), where sperm are placed directly in the uterus around the time the ovary releases one or more eggs to be fertilized. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is when the sperm and egg fertilize outside the woman’s body and then the fertilized egg is implanted in the uterus.

5. Your OB-GYN can often provide some fertility assistance

If a woman is trying to conceive, she should share this with her OB-GYN. If she is having trouble, an OB-GYN can provide a general evaluation to look for causes, as well as provide education, which often is very helpful.

6. Don’t worry if it’s been a month or two and you’re not pregnant

Ninety percent of couples get pregnant within a year. Don’t worry if it’s only been a few months. This is normal and usually there’s nothing wrong with you.

7. The overall rate of infertility hasn’t changed

Although more are seeking treatment. In this age, more women may be delaying fertility because of better access to education and career opportunities. The average age of a woman when she has her first child has gone up over the last few decades. Delaying childbearing increases the likelihood for a woman to experience fertility issues. There also may be more people pursuing fertility treatment now because there is better access to treatment.

8. Egg freezing is much better than it used to be

Typically, egg freezing is recommended for those who desire it when a woman is between the ages of 35 and 38. If a woman is interested in having eggs frozen, she should speak with a fertility specialist. This technology has gotten better in the last several years and there has been better success. Fertility specialists can now freeze eggs without having to fertilize them. Insurance generally doesn’t cover egg freezing unless there is a medical reason.

9. Fertility treatments have come a long way

Overall, fertility treatment has high success rates these days. In vitro fertilization (IVF) has a very high success rate. Even for women who have premature ovarian failure, which is loss of ovary function before the age of 40, can opt for a donor egg and carry a pregnancy. Sometimes it depends on what a person is willing to go through and what you can afford, although many insurances cover some fertility treatment. Most don’t cover everything and it can be expensive.

10. There are reasons not to consider fertility treatment

Some treatments can be quite expensive. Some people may have moral objections. In some cases, a woman may have a chronic condition that it wouldn’t be recommended or safe to pursue pregnancy, such as certain heart conditions. Sometimes if either partner has a genetic disorder that is hereditary, they may not want to risk passing it along to a child. If a couple chooses not to pursue fertility treatment but still wants to have children, adoption or a donor egg are also options.

11. Fertility treatments aren’t just physically demanding

They’re also mentally draining. There have been studies that have shown a woman going through fertility treatments may experience the same level of depression as someone going through cancer treatment. The psychological aspect of fertility treatments is under-recognized. We view pregnancy as a positive thing because you get a baby at the end, but fertility treatment can make a person anxious and terrified – while trying to conceive and also during pregnancy and after the baby is born. Some women are traumatized from the experience and develop an anxiety disorder. Women often go through these struggles in private because they often don’t want to tell anyone. The same is often true with miscarriages. Many women experience very real grief and depression during these times. It’s important to make sure people are getting counseling because a lot of times they aren’t even talking to their friends or family about it. If you have breast cancer, people bring you food. There is no greeting card for infertility.

12. Don’t shy away from a friend who’s having trouble conceiving

If you someone close to you who is going through fertility issues, don’t completely ignore it or become distant. Be a friend, act normal and open yourself up to the person for conversation if he or she wants to talk. A lot of times people want to talk about it but don’t know how. Give them the hope and space to talk as much or as little as they want. Everyone deals with a loss and struggles differently; some are private about it and don’t want to talk about it, but others do.

Don’t ever ask a woman when she’s going to have a baby

For someone who is going through fertility treatment, being constantly asked when they’re going to have a baby can be devastating. You don’t know what someone may be going through.

Dr. Katrina Mark is an OB-GYN at University of Maryland Medical Center and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

 

 

 

What Can Women Do to Prevent Early Menopause?

About Early Menopause

The average age a woman goes into menopause is 51. Menopause is considered abnormal when it begins before the age of 40 and is called “premature ovarian failure.” Common symptoms that come with menopause include hot flashes, night sweats, sleep problems, sexual issues, vaginal dryness, pain during sex, pelvic floor disorders (urine, bowel leakage, pelvic organ prolapse), losing bone mass, and mood swings.

Menopause is mostly genetically predetermined, which means you generally can’t do much to delay it from happening. What we can do is work to counter-balance or prevent the symptoms and effects that tend to develop during menopause.

What You Can Do

Women can do a lot of things to prepare themselves for changes that will come with menopause. These include modifying our lifestyles so we are eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.

Diet and Exercise

Related to diet, women should look into their caloric intake and make adjustments like eating smaller meal portions, and eating a well-balanced diet that includes lots of fiber and protein and less carbohydrates. Avoid eating late at night or snacking, which means no eating two to three hours before bed time.

Take calcium and vitamin D supplements for bone health to prevent osteoporosis. Well-balanced food with decreased caffeine intake also helps to decrease night sweats.

Exercise is one of the most important and modifiable factors that all women must take advantage of. Cardio workouts including walking or jogging three times a week will boost your cardiovascular system and endurance, and also help you control your weight. It’s also important to do weight-bearing exercises regularly to build up bones and prevent osteoporosis.

Kegels

Kegel exercises can help prevent pelvic floor disorders (urine, bowel leakage, pelvic organ prolapse). Kegel exercises should ideally be done every day three times a day. Every woman needs to know how to do Kegel exercises properly. Unfortunately, many women think they do Kegel exercises when, in fact, they do not, because the muscles are hidden inside the body. Your physician should be able to help you with it. You can do long squeezes for 10 seconds, or fast squeezes. This helps to maintain strength and endurance of the pelvic muscles in order to prevent urinary or bowel leakages in the future.

Mental Health

If possible, I recommend having regular sex. It improves vaginal lubrication and helps to prevent vaginal dryness and pain with intercourse. It is also good for your overall mood.
Finally, every women should work on developing a positive attitude, and spending time in a healthy environment helps – for example, taking frequent walks in a park or whatever makes you feel good; finding a way to de-stress and/or control any stress in your life. This will improve your mental health.

Hormone Therapy

Hormonal treatment for early menopause and menopause has been out of favor because of concerns with breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. With that said, it is still gold-standard treatment especially for hot flashes and night sweats. Hormonal therapies could offer significant benefits to women especially those going through early menopause. Talk to your doctor about what is right for you.

Fertility

A woman going through early menopause is still fertile. Unless you don’t have periods at all anymore, there is still a risk that you can get pregnant, so it’s important to use some form of contraception to avoid pregnancy.

Tatiana V. Sanses, MD, is Assistant Professor of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at University of Maryland School of Medicine and Director of Outreach Program for Urogynecology at University of Maryland Medical System.

 

 

Child Life Month

How Play is Helping UMMC’s Youngest Patients

By: Colleen Schmidt, System Communications Intern

As many parents know, the hospital can be a scary and unfamiliar place for a child. To help relax these fears, UMMC’s team of child life specialists and assistants use a variety of techniques to help children adjust to the hospital setting. Child life specialists, or CLS, aim to provide a positive and non-traumatic hospital experience for all patients at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital.  UMMC’s Child Life team consists of six CLS and two assistants. They work in the Pediatric Progressive Care Unit (PPCU), Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and the Pediatric ER.

Members of the Child Life Team

 

Play is one technique often used by child life team to help normalize the child’s hospital experience.  Various types of play are thoughtfully used to help children meet developmental milestones, express emotions, and understand their medical situation.  For example, during a practice called medical play, a CLS will provide their patient with a “hospital buddy” or small doll that the child can decorate. Next, with the guidance of a CLS, the child is introduced to medical equipment that they can explore and use on their new hospital buddy.  According to Aubrey Donley, a CLS at the pediatric ER, medical play is helpful in addressing misconceptions the child has about medical equipment.

“It gives them a sense of control and mastery over their hospital experience and over what they’ve been through,” she explains. Medical play empowers patients and allows them to have an active role in their hospitalization. Helping the children understand their environment lessens the chances of confusing or traumatizing them.

In addition to medical play, the child life team uses therapeutic play to help children work through a variety of issues that may accompany hospitalization. Sometimes, children who are hospitalized have experienced severe trauma. Unlike adults, children may not be able to verbalize their feelings. Play is how they express themselves and work through their experiences. For instance, one of Donley’s young patients survived a house fire and used play to understand what happened to him. “He was running around in a fireman costume pretending to put out a fire. For an onlooker, it might seem like he was just playing but we understand he is trying to make sense of the chaos and trauma that he had witnessed,” she explained. Therapeutic play can also help children who are at the hospital for long periods of time meet their physical and cognitive milestones.

With backgrounds in child development, the child life team is able to make individual plans for each child that matches their medical, physical, and emotional needs.  The team advocates for the children they support, and work with an interdisciplinary team of medical professionals to provide a comprehensive plan for that child. Child life specialists also provide educational and emotional support for families. All services provided by the child life team come at no charge to families.


For more information on our child life services please visit: http://umm.edu/programs/childrens/services/inpatient/child-life

Occupational Therapist Brings Holiday Cheer to NICU with Photo Shoot

img_9300-3Just before the holiday season, Lisa Glass, an occupational therapist in The Drs. Rouben and Violet Jiji Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) set up a Christmas photo shoot to show off the festive side of some of our tiniest patients.

Glass, who enjoys photography in her spare time, developed the idea for the photo-shoot as a “cute way to give some nice holiday photos to parents”. Since NICU babies are often among the sickest children in the hospital, and need round the clock medical care, it can be difficult for parents to appreciate the traditional joys of having a newborn. Especially during the first few critical months of life, this can include newborn pictures. Glass and her coworkers wanted to be able to “highlight how beautiful [these] babies are,” and give parents a view of their child in a more upbeat and positive light.

img_9142-3After work hours, Glass and two physical therapy coworkers in the University of Maryland Department of Rehabilitation Services, Laura Evans and Carly Funk, went from room to room, and for four and a half hours, photographed over 30 babies. Following the photography session, Glass edited her pictures, emailed them to parents, and even printed a few copies to surprise parents in their babies’ rooms. Following the photo shoot, she received many happy emails thanking her for what she had done. But for Glass, going above and beyond to show compassion and joy was an easy feat.

“For me, it was a pleasure to interact with the babies and the parents”, said Glass. “Parents are used to seeing their children as sick patients, not as beautiful babies. It’s important to see your patients not just as patients, but as people, too.”

Glass also emphasized the importance of teamwork in this endeavor.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do this without [Laura and Carly’s] help the whole way through.” This NICU trio showcases the importance of working together to bring some extra joy to UMMC.

Glass’ photography serves as a great reminder to see patients as the people they are, and not simply for the medical treatment they are receiving. Although these babies may have breathing tubes and cords surrounding them, they are also enveloped in a multitude of love and support.

trilpets-single-photos



Kathy’s Story: Living Better with Mesothelioma – Possible with the Right Team of Experts

Kathy Ebright was enjoying life with her husband, 2 kids and 7 grandchildren in rural Pennsylvania, when everything changed suddenly.  This is true for thousands of people fighting cancer across the world, but hearing the word “mesothelioma” is not common.

“I went numb, I might have said a few words, but I couldn’t put words together to speak,” Kathy said.

Kathy and her husband, Doug

Almost everyone has been touched by cancer, but Kathy and her husband didn’t know anyone with mesothelioma in their small town of Richfield. They only heard of the disease from commercials for lawyers who specialize in asbestos lawsuits.

Kathy’s mesothelioma was discovered during a scan of her abdomen, which she has regularly to monitor a heart condition.  Her vascular doctor saw unusual spots on her scans, which her primary care doctor and oncologist reviewed, and they determined it was pleural mesothelioma.  This means the cancerous cells are located in the chest cavity, and sometimes the lung.  Usually, those with pleural mesothelioma experience shortness of breath, but Kathy was lucky enough to catch her mesothelioma before experiencing any symptoms.

Kathy’s daughter, Ally, who works with the tumor registry at the Geisinger Medical Center, sprang into action after the initial shock.  They attended tumor boards at Geisinger, where physicians from multiple disciplines (radiation, medical, and surgical oncology) meet to discuss cases.  Kathy’s medical oncologist, Dr. Rajiv Panikkar, suggested to Kathy that she go to the University of Maryland Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center in Baltimore, where she would see a team skilled and experienced in the most novel treatments for mesothelioma.

On December 20, 2015, about a month after her initial diagnosis, Kathy had her first appointment with Dr. Joseph Friedberg, a nationally known expert in mesothelioma and head of thoracic surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Kathy and her family were nervous, but mesothelioma nurse navigator Colleen Norton helped them navigate the unfamiliar and frightening process of a mesothelioma diagnosis.  She made sure they were prepared for their appointment beforehand, and Colleen even handled authorization with their health insurance company.

“We just felt we were along for the ride because Colleen always had everything taken care of,” said Kathy’s husband Doug.

And they were just as impressed with Dr. Friedberg, who was calm, reassuring and explained Kathy’s situation very clearly.

“On the back of his folder, he hand drew a lung to display what was going on with me, and it could’ve been taken right from a textbook it was so good,” Kathy said.

Kathy’s granddaughter, Carleigh, who serves as her main cancer-fighting motivator

They were also impressed with Dr. Friedberg’s tenacity and understanding.  Kathy wanted to spend Christmas with her family, but Dr. Friedberg didn’t want wait too long to perform the lung sparing surgery.

Her surgery was scheduled for January 5, 2016.

Throughout the surgery, Kathy’s family couldn’t have been more comfortable and informed.

“We camped out in the Healing Garden just about the entire time,” Doug said. “Melissa Culligan, Dr. Friedberg’s nurse, was in and out of the operating room, updating us every two hours.  We were never left wondering how Kathy was doing.  We also had the option to call into the operating room if we had any questions.”

During Kathy’s recovery in the hospital, she said the nurses were “phenomenal.”  Colleen also came to see her several times a day, and they added a La-Z-Boy to Kathy’s room so her husband could more comfortably spend the nights with her.

While there is no cure for mesothelioma, yet, Kathy and her family couldn’t be happier to have the UMGCCC team in their corner.  She now returns every 3 months for the next 2 years for check-ups, and Dr. Friedberg describes her scans as “pristine.”

“It’s very reassuring to know we have such caring people looking out for my health,” Kathy said.

Learn more about the Mesothelioma and Thoracic Oncology Treatment Center at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Center by clicking here, or calling 410-328-6366.

Patient and Wife Make Their Own Success Video

It was a scary moment for Jody Wright. Her husband, Carl, needed an aortic valve replacement and the operation was being performed by a surgeon they had just met – Bradley Taylor, MD, MPH.

If the surgery went as planned, Carl could be on the path back to the life he once knew, going on walks and creating stone sculptures. If it went wrong? As Carl puts it, he might have been shaking St. Peter’s hand sooner than planned.

The surgery was a success, and Jody and Carl couldn’t have been more pleased with the care they received from the University of Maryland Medical Center and Dr. Taylor.

Jody, who has a background in film, produced this video to show her appreciation for the life-saving treatment, as well as the support UMMC provided during their stay:

We chatted with Jody to learn more about her time at the University of Maryland and why she produced the video. See her answers here:

Q: Why did you want to make this video?

A: The reason why I wanted to do this video is that I know a lot of people may be going to the UMMC with the same fears and concerns.  I wanted to address the big elephant in the room – that perhaps for a patient at age 60, surgeons wouldn’t be as concerned about your outcome as someone with all their life ahead of them. Continue reading

Living with Mesothelioma: A New Normal

In December of 2007, Timonium resident Jen Blair was pregnant with her second son, Kevin. It was a “very painful pregnancy.” She went to a few doctors, who told her the pain was normal. The pain returned, “worse than ever,” six weeks after giving birth to Kevin.  More doctors. More tests. She was first told she needed laparoscopic surgery, then that she had stage 4 cancer in her abdomen. She was told to get her affairs in order.

It turns out Jen had peritoneal (in the abdomen) mesothelioma, in which cancer cells are found in the membranes around organs in the abdomen. This is very rare — only about 350-500 cases are diagnosed annually in the US – and the five-year survival rate is just 16 percent.

“It was overwhelming,” Blair said.

Now that she knew what she was up against, it was time to find a doctor.
Her brother did an Internet search of the best Mesothelioma doctors, and up popped H. Richard Alexander, MD, an internationally recognized surgical oncologist and clinical researcher at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC). UMGCCC is only a half hour from her house, but Blair said her choice had much more to do than travel time from home.

“Dr. Alexander’s team was incredibly supportive,” Blair said. “When I called with literally dozens of questions, some of which, thinking back now, were ridiculous, they always took time to give me an answer. That really impressed me.”
Just a week after calling UMGCCC about her condition, Blair met with Dr. Alexander.  After an examination, Dr. Alexander told Blair that she was a candidate for surgery. For surgery to be an option in  treating mesothelioma, it has to be considered a safe operation, and the disease has to be confined to one area. Blair decided to have surgery.

“That one decision changes everything for a patient,” Blair said.  “Not all doctors specializing in mesothelioma have the patient’s best interest at heart.”

Many doctors, Blair said, are motivated by money.  She said she’s heard horror stories from other mesothelioma patients, where doctors demanded an upfront sum of money—sometimes adding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars—before operating.  But not at UMGCCC.

In March 2008, Dr. Alexander performed surgery with HIPEC (hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy), which uses heated chemotherapy in combination with surgery to treat cancers that have spread to the abdomen lining.  While surgery to treat mesothelioma isn’t a cure, Jen’s quality and quantity of life have been greatly improved.

Blair was virtually pain free for more than seven years after the surgery, and was able to spend time with her family, and watch her two sons, Kevin and Nick, as they grew up. She had a second surgery with HIPEC in March 2015, and more than a year later, suffers very few episodes of pain.

While the days are still hard and life won’t ever be normal, Jen says it’s a huge relief having Dr. Alexander and his team in her corner.

“Dr. Alexander is hopeful, but realistic,” Blair said. “That’s important.”

Jen now works as a volunteer at UMGCCC, comforting and supporting other patients going through the same things as her.  She also works closely with the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, which is a non-profit “dedicated to ending mesothelioma and the suffering caused by it, by funding research, providing education and support for patients and their families, and by advocating for federal funding of mesothelioma research.”

Learn more about the Mesothelioma and Thoracic Oncology Treatment Center at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Center by clicking here.

Taking Treatment & a Half Marathon, Together, One Step at A Time

The relationship between a cancer patient and their care provider is a special one.  Between radiation therapy appointments, hours of chemotherapy, and even sometimes surgery and recovery, there’s not much that can strengthen this bond, besides running a half marathon.

Dana and Tiffani

But Tiffani Tyer, a nurse practitioner in Radiation Oncology at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC), and Dana Deighton’s journey started long before this year’s Maryland Half Marathon & 5K.

About 3 years ago Dana was diagnosed with stage IV esophageal cancer.  At 43 years old with 3 young children, it was, in Dana’s words, “unfathomable.” She traveled up and down the East Coast looking for a treatment plan that would give her the most hope. Many acted like she was naïve and unrealistic for even seeking out treatments beyond palliative chemotherapy.

After much deliberation, Dana settled on a plan of 8 cycles of chemotherapy at one local hospital. During this treatment, a friend introduced Dana to Mohan Suntha, MD, a radiation oncologist at UMGCCC.

Within an hour of getting Dana’s information, Dr. Suntha gave her a call. While he agreed the appropriate preliminary step was chemotherapy, he did not close the door on her like many others.  Dr. Suntha and Dana continued to check in with each other throughout her chemotherapy treatments to see how things were going.

In December 2013, after Dana finished chemotherapy, she learned she would not be considered for radiation or surgery by the hospital where she was initially treated. She was told that the data did not support it. She was devastated. Dana returned to UMGCCC, where Dr. Suntha and Tiffani were always willing to reassess her situation and provide guidance when obstacles seemed insurmountable.  Knowing that every case is different, he agreed to reevaluate her.

tiffani dana and dr sunthaAfter careful consideration and determining that her distant disease had indeed resolved, he offered her local treatment with chemotherapy and radiation targeting the primary site in her esophagus.  While the local treatment helped, the primary site still showed evidence of persistent disease at the end of her treatment.  To try to avoid major thoracic surgery, an endoscopic mucosal resection was attempted, but was unfortunately unsuccessful. Dana was again devastated. She felt like it was just another blow to her journey to health and she was running out of options.

Dr. Suntha and Tiffani encouraged Dana to stay hopeful. They agreed along with many other providers that indeed she was in a difficult position. After many tumor board discussions and repeat imaging studies to confirm her extent of local disease thoracic surgeon Whitney Burrows, MD, was consulted. He discussed surgical salvage to address her only site of cancer.  Albeit risky, with no guarantee of a survival benefit, it was her only remaining local treatment option.  Recognized as a long shot with a real possibility of acute complications related to such a long and complicated surgery, she willingly consented to undergo the esophagectomy. From Dana’s view the benefit far outweighed the risk. She believed in her team and her surgeon, whose expertise is well established in post chemoradiation patients. It proved to be a good choice and offered a huge reward.  Dana recovered well and was cancer free and feeling great–until July 2015.

It was then that a routine interval scan revealed a new lymph node mass in her Axilla (near the armpit) was biopsied and confirmed to be recurrent esophageal cancer.  Dana had resigned herself to more draining rounds of chemotherapy after another surgery could not remove all of the cancer.  But again, Dr. Suntha, Tiffani, and medical oncologist, Dan Zandberg, MD, always made sure all options were presented and considered.

tiffani zandberg and sunthaDana’s case was represented to  their colleagues at a tumor board meeting on the Friday before she was supposed to start chemotherapy.  Drs. Suntha and  Zandberg called her that evening to  recommend  immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of a  patient’s immune system to fight cancer.  After a sleepless night, Dana agreed.   She now receives treatments of Nivolumab every 2 weeks for at least a year.

Dr. Suntha has always recognized that there’s something unusual about Dana’s case, and has often asked, “Is there something different about her biology? We don’t know.”

Dr. Suntha, he also believes that Dana’s strong will and clear ability to advocate for herself has facilitated part of the success of her care.

dana and tiffaniThroughout these three years, Dana describes herself as lucky enough to continue her usual regimen of walking, running, and exercising consistently.  She donated money to the Maryland Half Marathon & 5K to fund cancer research in the past, but feeling much healthier and up to a new challenge, she promised to run it in 2016. She has always ran 10 milers in her hometown of Alexandria, Virginia, but knew those 3 extra miles of hills in the Half Marathon would be challenging.
Despite her reservations, in a partnership with Tiffani, the Radiation Oncology Greene Street Dream Team was born. On May 14th, Tiffani and Dana ran the entire race together (even though, according to Dana, Tiffani could’ve run circles around her).  To date, they’ve raised more than $10,000. They’ve taken every step together in cancer treatment and every step in the half marathon & 5K – a true bond that will continue.

Fundraising for the Maryland Half Marathon and 5K that supports this Radiation Oncology Dream Team and their patients continues until June 30th.

You can donate to Tiffani & Dana’s team here.