"I am here today due to the talents of the doctors at Fox Chase Cancer Center."
My body’s call for medical attention came on a seemingly normal morning in 2007, when I experienced extreme difficulty swallowing after completing my regular workout routine. I had an uneasy feeling about the strange sensation, but I delayed pursuing a doctor’s help until the next day, when I finally decided to go to the emergency room at a local hospital.
The emergency room doctor found a large growth in my stomach and recommended that I seek a facility that was able to handle a tumor of that type and size. I was shocked that I could be living with something and not know. I was able to run five miles the previous day with no issues.
A Relatively Rare Cancer
Following the advice of my friends and colleagues in the medical field, I decided to get a biopsy at Fox Chase Cancer Center, where I met with Margaret von Mehren, MD, a medical oncologist. She diagnosed my condition as a late-stage metastatic gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), which is a relatively rare cancer. The tumor was about the size of a cantaloupe, and the cancer had spread to my liver.
I had had no pain or discomfort prior to the diagnosis, other than the sudden problem with swallowing that had prompted my trip to the emergency room. Dr. von Mehren and her team developed my treatment plan—six months of oral chemotherapy to shrink the tumor followed by surgery to remove what remained of it.
By the end of the six months of chemotherapy, my tumor had shrunk to the size of a golf ball and I was ready for surgery. In the fall of 2008, the tumor was removed without any significant damage to the surrounding stomach area and radiofrequency-generated heat was used to destroy the tumor on my liver.
A Clinical Trial
I then enrolled in a clinical trial that was evaluating whether the drug Gleevec, a targeted therapy that was new at the time, could help prevent a recurrence of the cancer.
Three years later, my doctors diagnosed another small tumor that required surgery. During that delicate procedure, the surgeon removed large parts of my lower and upper intestines and reconstructed my colon. The surgery was successful, and I was on my road to recovery once again.
It wasn't always easy, but I worked through any discomfort that I had. I also exercised throughout all of my treatments. Once I came out of surgery, I was up and walking around, something that I did with each of my surgeries.
I also make sure that I eat a proper diet, and I don’t smoke or drink. Those things have kept me strong mentally and physically. It is not just up to the doctor to heal you; you have to participate yourself.
I am living proof that Fox Chase is the best place to go when you have cancer. Because Fox Chase doctors specialize in cancer, they understand and are aware of the newest and best treatment options. In my opinion, Fox Chase is number one in research and in developing modalities to keep people alive. Today, 16 years later, I still take 300 milligrams of Gleevec each day, and I return to Fox Chase every six months to see my oncologist and once a year to see my surgeon.
Cancer came with some major but necessary changes in my body: I am living today with about half of my stomach, lower and upper intestines, and colon. Despite this, I feel perfectly fine, and can carry on with my normal life. I am here today due to the talents of the doctors at Fox Chase.
Since my successful treatment at Fox Chase, I continue to be involved with the work of the institution. I have done voiceovers, speaking engagements, articles, and editorials for Fox Chase. I contribute in whatever ways I can to help people realize that they don’t have to give up just because they have cancer.
Learn more about treatment for GIST (Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor) at Fox Chase Cancer Center.