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.

UMMC Hosts Paintfest America

By Kirsten Bannan, System Communications Intern

For patients diagnosed with cancer, treatment may mean having surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, or a combination of all three. But, cancer patients at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center (UMGCCC) recently were treated to another type of therapy — one that indulged their inner artist and helped them step away from their illness for a moment.

The UMGCCC hosted a PaintFest America event July 7, and dozens of patients, staff members and family members spent the morning painting colorful canvas murals set up on tables in two locations in the cancer center. Several patients who weren’t able to join in the group activity even had the opportunity to paint in their hospital rooms.

The Foundation for Hospital Art is bringing PaintFest to cancer centers in every state as part of a 50day national tour that will end in New York City August 23. The nonprofit organization’s goal is to bring together families, patients and staff at cancer facilities in each state though art. “Paintfest America was nothing short of fabulous,” says Madison Friz, a 16-year-old leukemia patient who took part in the UMGCCC event after a week-long hospital stay. “As a cancer patient, it feels really good to know there are people out there in this world who care about you. To leave my hospital room to paint a picture and forget my sickness is a feeling I can’t even describe.”

UMGCCC was the only stop in Maryland on the tour, and Madison was chosen to help paint the state’s panel featuring a Baltimore oriole and a black-eyed Susan. All of the state panels will be assembled into a 10- by-15-foot mural on the final day of the tour and then returned to the hospitals where they were painted.

One of the volunteers, Morgan Feight, whose grandfather John Feight started the Foundation for Hospital Art, says that artwork provides a welcome distraction to patients and family members once the art is mounted on the walls.”

“Oftentimes, patients view hospitals as drab, starkly sterile buildings. By hanging vibrant murals throughout the hallways, we hope to change patients’ perspective and give them a sense of rejuvenating joy and hope as they stare at the designs,” she says.

Peggy Torr, a UMGCC nurse for more than 30 years, says patients were excited to take up paintbrushes and paint to participate in this event. “They were a part of something much bigger for the moment – an opportunity to calm the spirit and fuel the soul. It was palpable!”

She adds, “As healthcare professionals, we can be so task-oriented that having the opportunity to do something for our patients, instead of to them, was just amazing.”

Get Ready for the UMMC Blood Drive, July 26–28!

By Maggie Gill, System Communications Intern

Now is the time to give, says the American Red Cross. On July 5, the not-for-profit organization issued an emergency call for blood and platelets. The request comes on the heels of a particularly slow donation season, when the available supply fell 39,000 donations short of hospital need – a trend that is expected to continue in the following weeks, as regular donors flock to the beaches and mountains for the summer holidays. Unfortunately for the five million Americans who rely on transfusions each year, a vacation is a luxury that they can’t afford.

“We urge people to give now to help hospital patients who depend on blood and platelets being available when they need it,” said Chris Hrouda, executive vice president of the Red Cross Biomedical Services, in a press release. “Summer is one of the most challenging seasons to collect enough blood, but patients need blood no matter what time of the year it is.”

Making up the deficit will require the participation of first-time donors, especially. But often, it’s these individuals who are the most hesitant to roll up their sleeves. One survey found that the top reason that would-be donors decline to give is a fear of needles. The Red Cross recommends that needle-phobes focus on the difference that their gift will make: a single pint of blood – the amount that’s typically collected in a draw – can save the lives of up to three other people. If you count yourself among the ten percent of the population that experiences fear around needles, it may also help to know what to expect on donation day. Here’s a summary of the simple, four step process.

  1. Registration. When you arrive at the blood drive, you’ll see a registration table staffed by a Red Cross employee or volunteer, who will sign you in and review the eligibility guidelines and donation information with you. Be prepared to show your donor card, driver’s license or other form of identification.
  2. Health History and Mini-Physical. This includes a private, confidential interview with a second Red Cross employee or volunteer about your health and travel history. Afterward, he or she will take your temperature, pulse and blood pressure, and prick your finger for a hemoglobin sample.
  3. Donation. Although you can expect your visit to take about an hour, the blood draw itself only lasts eight to ten minutes. The Red Cross attendant will clean a site on your arm with an alcohol swab and insert a brand-new, sterile needle into the vein. During this time, you can read, listen to music or talk with a friend. After the draw is complete, the attendant will remove the needle and cover the site with a bandage.
  4. Refreshments. In the refreshments area, you can enjoy complimentary cookies and apple juice – and the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve made a difference in the lives of others!

You can read more about what to expect Red Cross’ website.

If you’re a first-time donor, or if you haven’t donated in a while, take a minute to familiarize yourself with the eligibility guidelines. As of May, male blood and platelet donors must have a minimum hemoglobin level of 13.0 g/dL – an increase from the previous 12.5 g/dL. (For females, the minimum acceptable level is still 12.5 g/dL.) Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that’s responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the tissues in the rest of the body. The Red Cross tests all prospective donors’ hemoglobin levels as part of the mini-physical, to ensure that they’re able to give safely; individuals who don’t meet the requirement are invited to come back later, once they’ve raised their levels.

Hemoglobin-IronLevels-Flyer-FINAL (4)


Are you ready to save a life (or three)? University of Maryland Medical Center’s next blood drive will take place in the Gudelsky Hallway on:

  • Tuesday, July 26 (8 am – 8 pm)
  • Wednesday, July 27 (8 am – 8 pm)
  • Thursday, July 28 (7 am – 7 pm)

Donors receive a $5-coupon valid at all UMMC vendors and will be entered in a drawing for two tickets to an upcoming Orioles game.

Walk-ins are welcome, but should be advised that appointments are honored first. Click here to schedule yours today! To save even more time at the donation site, you can also print or download a RapidPass, which allows you to read the education materials and answer the health history questions before your appointment, in the comfort of your home.

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.

Protect Your Skin This Summer

By Kirsten Bannan, System Communications Intern

As the summer progresses the initial sunburn has faded and it’s time to think about protecting your skin. Everyone wants that bronze glow that comes with a summer tan, but most people are sun picnot aware of the damage the sun can cause to your skin and your health. Here are some facts and tips that will help you protect your skin this summer.

Skin Cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Most skin cancers are caused by exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) rays. The sun emits these rays and you can get extra exposure from using tanning beds or sun lamps. “People who use tanning salons are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma, and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma. According to recent research, first exposure to tanning beds in youth increases melanoma risk by 75 percent” (Skin Cancer Foundation). There are two types of UV radiation that affect the skin: UVA and UVB. Both kinds of rays can cause skin cancer, weaken the immune system, contribute to premature aging of the skin, and cataracts (See our Cataract Awareness Article).

UVA Rays– they are not absorbed by the ozone layer and penetrate skin to contribute to premature aging. “They account for up to 95 percent of the UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface” (Skin Cancer Foundation). UVA is the prevalent tanning ray; tanning itself is actually damage to the skin’s DNA. The Skin gets darker in an attempt to protect from further DNA damage.

UVB Rays– they are partially absorbed by the ozone layer and are the primary cause to sunburn. They play a very large role in the development of skin cancer. The most intensive UVB rays hit the Earth around 10am to 4pm from April to October.

There are protective measures that you can take to prevent against damage and skin cancer. Since the sun can damage your skin in as few as 15 minutes, it’s important to put sunscreen on when you know you will be outside for an extended period of time. Sunscreen works by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering sunlight. They contain chemicals that interact with the skin to protect it from UV rays.
Here are some other tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on sun safety:

A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors.

A regular T-shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15, so use other types of protection as well.

Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure.

o Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Most sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side.

SPF. Sunscreens are assigned a sun protection factor (SPF) number that rates their effectiveness in blocking UV rays. Higher numbers indicate more protection. You should use a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15.

Reapplication. Sunscreen wears off. Put it on again if you stay out in the sun for more than two hours and after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.

Cosmetics. Some makeup and lip balms contain some of the same chemicals used in sunscreens. If they do not have at least SPF 15, don’t use them by themselves.

Sunscreen is one of the best ways of protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays. Make sure to get a sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen labels that have “Broad Spectrum” means they protect against both kinds of rays. You also want to make sure to know the difference between “water resistant” and “waterproof”. The American Cancer Society says that “No sunscreens are waterproof or “sweat proof,” and manufacturers are no longer allowed to claim that they are. If a product’s front label makes claims of being water resistant, it must specify whether it lasts for 40 minutes or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating”. They recommend reapplying every two hours and even sooner if you are sweating or swimming.

No matter what summer activities you have planned this summer, make sure you protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. It takes 2 minutes to apply sunscreen and that can help save you from a lifetime of skin damage or even skin cancer.

Take a Sun Safety IQ Quiz from the American Cancer Society:
http://www.cancer.org/healthy/toolsandcalculators/quizzes/sun-safety/index’

Sources:
http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/sun-safety.htm
https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/sunscreen.pdf
http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/radiationexposureandcancer/uvradiation/uv-radiation-avoiding-uv
http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/features/stay-sun-safe-this-summer
http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/uva-and-uvb

Safe Firework Fun

FireworkSafetyBy Kirsten Bannan, System Communications Intern

Summer is in full swing and as the temperature increases, so does the amount of summer events happening. The 4th of July is right around the corner and everyone knows it is a popular holiday to spend time with family and friends and enjoy some summer traditions such as fireworks.

Sometimes holiday fun is not as harmless as you might think. Even though fireworks seem like a safe and fun way to spend the holiday, “230 people on average go to the emergency room with firework-related injuries in the month around the July 4th holiday” (US Consumer Product Safety Commission).

A sparkler, popular to most at-home firework displays, can heat up to about 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, which can cause serious burns especially if in the hands of children. Kids aren’t the only ones who need to be careful; the age group most susceptible to injuries by fireworks is the 20-40 age groups which are usually the age group responsible for lighting fireworks at home. Sometimes the influence of alcohol can contribute to high numbers of injury during at- home firework displays.

Karen Hardingham RN, BSN, CPST Safe Kids Baltimore Coalition Coordinator has some helpful tips for those who still want to include fireworks in their 4th of July experience. She is most adamant about attending professional firework displays rather than at-home shows. She says, “leave it to the professionals, do be aware of labels and laws of the area, and look at alternatives.”

Some events in the Baltimore area to attend are as follows:

  • Baltimore’s Fourth of July Celebration presented by Ports America Chesapeake
    Location: Baltimore Inner Harbor, 561 Light Street, Baltimore, MD 21202
  • Fullerton Park
    Location: 4304 Fullerton Avenue, Baltimore 21236
    Rain Date: July 5
  • Loch Raven Academy
    Location: 8101 Lasalle Road, Towson 21286
    Rain Date: July 5
  • Catonsville High School
    Location: 421 Bloomsbury Avenue, Catonsville 21228
    Rain Date: July 9

For a full list of public firework displays in Maryland click here.

If you are determined to have an at-home firework show, consider substituting hand-held sparklers with glow sticks, which decreases the chance of hands or clothes getting burned. Here are some other safety tips about fireworks to help get the best out of the holiday the safe way, courtesy of Safe Kids Worldwide:

  •  If you plan to use fireworks, make sure they are legal in your area.
  •  Do not wear loose clothing while using fireworks.
  •  Never light fireworks indoors or near dry grass.
  •  Point fireworks away from homes, and keep away from brush, leaves and flammable substances
  •  Stand several feet away from lit fireworks. If a device does not go off, do not stand over it to  investigate it. Put it out with water and dispose of it.
  •  Always have a bucket of water and/or a fire extinguisher nearby. Know how to operate the fire  extinguisher properly.
  • If a person is injured by fireworks, immediately go to a doctor or hospital. If an eye injury occurs, don’t allow the person to touch or rub it, as this may cause even more damage.

Being aware of the local firework laws are especially important. The Baltimore City Fire Department confirms that all fireworks, even sparklers are against the law in Baltimore City unless a permit and approval is given from the office of the Fire Marshall. Depending on the area, it is important to know the firework laws before having a display of your own. Violators of these laws are subject to a misdemeanor fine of up to $250. The holidays are about spending time with friends and family, so before deciding to make your own firework display, consider the consequences and alternatives for a safe and fun 4th of July.

For a PDF with more statistics on Firework Injuries from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission click here.

Sources:

http://www.baltimorecountymd.gov/Agencies/fire/safety%20education/fireworks.html
http://www.fireworkssafety.org/
https://www.safekids.org/tip/fireworks-safety-tips
http://www.cpsc.gov/en/Safety-Education/Neighborhood-Safety-Network/Posters/Fireworks-Injuries/

Celebrate Cataract Awareness Month by Looking After Your Eyes

By Maggie Gill, System Communications Intern

The month of June is dedicated to raising awareness for an eye condition that affects approximately 22 million Americans ages 40 and older: cataracts. A cataract is a clouding in the lens, the part of the eye that focuses light on the retina – much like a camera’s lens. We can think of a cataract, then, as a spot on the lens that causes the pictures we take to turn out faded and blurry. It can grow over time, due to the clumping of protein in the eye, and if allowed to progress, can lead to blindness.cataracts

The good news is that cataracts that interfere with daily activities are treatable with a safe and effective surgery; an ophthalmologist removes the clouded lens and replaces it with an artificial lens. As with all surgeries, this one is done on an individual basis, so ask your eye doctor if you think that you might be a candidate.

An individual’s chances for developing a cataract in one or both eyes increase naturally with age. Senile cataracts, the type related to aging, make up the majority of cases, but there are other types, which have additional risk factors. According to Bennie Jeng, MD, chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the single non-age-related cause of cataracts is the cumulative exposure to UV rays over a lifetime. He also cites the use of steroids or steroid-based eye drops, traumas to the eye and side of the head and directed radiation. Other factors associated with cataract development include smoking and diabetes.

In honor of Cataract Awareness Month, here are some steps that you can take to protect your eyes:

  • Wear a hat and sunglasses. Because long-term exposure to UVA and especially UVB radiation is known to damage the lens, Dr. Jeng advises the use of protective eyewear to minimize risk. Although radiation from the sun is present year-round, it’s particularly important to cover up in the summer months, when the days are longer and you are likely spending more time outdoors. Keep in mind, though, that not all sunglasses are made equal. When you’re purchasing a pair, be sure to check the label – they should block 99 percent of UVB rays and 95 percent of UVA rays.
  • Avoid tobacco. Research shows that pack-a-day smokers are at twice the risk for developing cataracts. If you smoke, it’s not too late to reduce your chances and improve your overall health by quitting.
  • Practice good nutrition. Studies on the impact of nutrition on cataract development remain inconclusive. Some suggest that xanthophylis compounds – pigments contained in leafy, dark green vegetables – help to promote eye health. In any case, these foods, as well as foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins C and E, are often good for you and taste good, too.

The National Eye Institute recommends that you have a comprehensive eye exam at least once every two years, whether or not you have cataract symptoms. If you don’t already have an eye doctor, you can click here to meet our physicians. Board-certified ophthalmologists, optometrists and vision scientists from University of Maryland School of Medicine and University of Maryland Faculty Physicians, Inc. (FPI) provide comprehensive evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of general and subspecialty eye disorders through a multidisciplinary approach. They offer innovative, advanced-treatment options for adults and children suffering from a wide range of eye disorders, and general eye care for those requiring corrective lenses. You can choose from four convenient locations, including the new state-of-the-art center at Waterloo Crossing in Columbia, Maryland.

To schedule an appointment or learn more about our ophthalmological services, please call 667-214-1111.

Although Cataract Awareness Month serves as a reminder to visit your eye doctor, it’s important not to lose sight of your good habits, and to look after your eyes all year long.

Sources:

http://umm.edu/health/medical/reports/articles/cataracts

https://nei.nih.gov/health/cataract/cataract_facts

 

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.

UM Children’s Hospital Patient Gives Back in a Big Way

Michelle Kaminaris, a kindergarten teacher at Hampstead Hill Academy in East Baltimore, has seen kids miss school for all kinds of reasons. Like most of us, she never expected her own child to miss school due to a serious illness. But when her daughter Eva (an eighth grader at Hampstead Hill Academy) started showing flu-like symptoms, a trip to the doctor confirmed that Eva would be missing school due to pneumonia.

From there, Eva had more tests and doctors found a tumor on her ovaries. The tumor was removed after an emergency surgery, but she still had to spend time recovering at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital (UMCH). While she endured a slew of poking and prodding and scary medical diagnoses, it was the Child Life team and other skilled nurses at UMCH who made her hospital stay a positive experience.

Group Photo

Eva (fourth from left) and Hampstead Hill Academy’s Kiwanis Builders Club pose with their donation to UMCH

“We had unbelievably phenomenal care. I never had to leave my daughter,” Michelle said. “One of the nurses even gave up his lunch hour to take Eva to play and walk around.”

Post-discharge and feeling better, Eva was determined to give back to the place that took such great care of her. She started looking online for ways to help and found UMCH’s toy wish list.

She sought help from her school’s Kiwanis Builders Club, and recruited some of her friends and classmates to help. The club, seven members strong, started planning fundraisers, bake sales, art supply and Band-Aid drives, and a paint night.

Shannon Joslin Builders Club

Shannon Joslin, Child Life Manager, describes the Child Life Program to the Hampstead Hill Academy Kiwanis Builders Club

The students stayed after school one day to stretch the canvases for the paint night by hand and helped cook food for the event. Thirty-five families came out after school to support the club and raise money for the cause.

The club went shopping for items on the UMCH wish list with the money from the fundraisers. They picked out high-demand items like DVDs, video games, building block sets and card games, all which they personally delivered to the hospital.

As Eva heads to high school, she wants to ensure that this is not a one-time donation. Even if she can’t start the club at her new high school, she plans to keep in touch and continue giving back to UMCH. Michelle’s youngest child, inspired by Eva’s involvement and by UMCH’s great care, plans continue the family tradition and join the Hampstead Hill Builders Club next year.

Many thanks to the Hampstead Hill Academy’s Kiwanis Builders Club! Your continued support of the Children’s Hospital ensures we have the resources available to make every patient’s stay comfortable and fun.

Learn more about the Child Life Program and meet the team.

Interested in giving to the Children’s Hospital? Here’s how you can help.