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Robert Crossfield - Patient Story

"When I met with Dr. von Mehren, I was impressed by her confidence."

— Robert Crossfield, Kidney and Colon Patient

In the summer of 2007, Robert Crossfield was digging a trench for a new drain line outside of his home. When he finished, his wife, Joan, noticed a lump on the right side of his chest through his tank top. As a father of five boys, including triplets, this 30-year Philadelphia fireman was concerned about the lump and made an appointment with his primary doctor.

"My doctor didn't like the look of the lump and suggested I go see a general surgeon at a community hospital to get a biopsy, which I did. Shortly after, I learned that I had a rare cancer called leiomyosarcoma in my chest wall," shares Bob, who underwent surgery at the same hospital.

"Even after the surgery, my wife kept worrying about my health – and wanted me to go see a cancer specialist,” recalls Bob. Joan's sister is a wound care nurse at Fox Chase Cancer Center. She urged Bob to make an appointment with Margaret von Mehren, MD, a medical oncologist who specializes in treating patients with sarcoma. “I did my own online research and agreed. I went to see Dr. von Mehren within a few days." 

"When I met with Dr. von Mehren, I was impressed by her confidence and had an immediate trust in her recommendations for my treatment,” Bob recalls. Dr. von Mehren referred Bob to Penny Anderson, MD, a radiation oncologist at Fox Chase.

Dr. Anderson started Bob on a six-week course of radiation. Because leiomyosarcoma is an aggressive cancer, further testing was recommended, including a CT scan, lab work, and a consultation every three months with his team at Fox Chase.

Bob thought his cancer was under control and continued with his normal activities, including a routine colonoscopy. During the test, Bob’s doctor discovered pre-cancerous cells, and in January 2008, Bob underwent surgery at his community hospital to remove a large portion of his colon.

Doctors at Fox Chase continued to monitor Bob's health. In November 2008, testing revealed a mass on Bob’s lung. The Chief of Thoracic Surgery at Fox Chase performed minimally invasive video-assisted thoracic surgery, called VATS, to remove the mass from Bob’s lung while preserving as much lung tissue as possible. Following surgery, Bob underwent another aggressive course of chemotherapy under Dr. von Mehren’s care to ensure the cancer would not recur.

During his chemotherapy, Bob’s lungs filled with fluid, which can be a side effect of treatment. A pulmonary specialist at Fox Chase evaluated Bob and admitted him to the hospital at the Center. “The pulmonary department at Fox Chase is remarkable,” beams Bob.

Within a few months, Bob was back at Fox Chase – this time for renal cancer. Rosalia Viterbo, MD, FACS, a urologic surgeon who specializes in kidney surgery, performed the delicate procedure robotically. “Dr. Viterbo is such a genuine person; I look forward to our yearly visits now,” shares Bob. “She's had two children in the last couple years. She is such a great listener and easy to talk to, I just know she's a great mom.”

Bob’s experience with cancer didn’t end there. In March 2010, Bob experienced pain in a muscle near his right side. The sarcoma had recurred. Jeffrey M. Farma, MD, FACS, a surgical oncologist at Fox Chase, performed two surgeries to remove the tumors. Again, Bob underwent six weeks of intense radiation therapy. "That’s when I realized how aggressive sarcoma can be," Bob says.

With renal, colon, and metastatic sarcoma in his right chest cavity, it was a struggle to keep in good spirits. "My wife and kids are what kept me going during these difficult times,” he says. “The guys from the fire department were there for everything. We laughed, we cried, we talked. I am really blessed to have such a strong bond with such special people. With everything I was facing, I believed I had so much to be thankful for.”

With the objective of keeping the cancer under control, Bob began a six-week course of inpatient chemotherapy prior to surgery to decrease the size of the mass. Subsequently, Dr. Farma performed two surgeries on his lower back and a radical surgery on his right chest wall.

Sameer Patel, MD, FACS, and Neal Topham, MD, FACS, reconstructive surgeons at Fox Chase, performed several procedures on Bob’s chest wall. During one, Dr. Patel placed a wound vac into Bob’s torso using the same procedure used on veterans for injuries sustained from explosive devices. The results were remarkable enough for doctors from all over the country to view his results.

"During my many procedures at Fox Chase, Dr. Farma, Dr. Patel, and Dr. Topham treated me with respect and compassion," Bob says. “What they were able to accomplish was incredible.” Bob underwent additional surgeries in the summer of 2013 and 2014. Since his last surgery in July of 2014, the scans have been clear.

As a result of so many surgeries, Bob experienced nerve pain in his chest. Dr. Topham recommended physical therapy at Fox Chase to improve Bob’s range of motion. "The rehabilitation was so helpful,” he says. “To have a top-notch rehab facility under the same roof was very convenient. The therapists are really caring and great at what they do.”

Bob is committed to serving the community. In addition to his 30 years of service as a Philadelphia firefighter, he has been with FEMA since 1994, and was among the team of first responders to the 9/11 disaster where he assisted at Ground Zero the first nine days.

With one son in college, one son in high school, and his triplet sons in middle school, Bob says he's back to work and glad to be back with the guys at the firehouse again. He sees Dr. Farma and Dr. von Mehren every three months for scans and is forever grateful to the entire team at Fox Chase for saving his life.

"Dr. Farma is a local guy. We get our hair cut at the same barber. He's a family man, a real genuine person and a terrific doctor. When I go to see him with my wife after the testing, he's always calm and straightforward with us. A handshake, a hug – he really connects with you. You can see it in his eyes, he really cares,” Bob says.

When Bob reflects on the bleak prognosis he was given several years ago, he attributes his success to his love of God, family and friends, his fellow firefighters, and the doctors and nurses at Fox Chase.

"I've had aggressive cancers, and multiple cancers, but today I feel healthy again,” admits Bob. “This is a battle I'll never give up because I have way too much yet to see and to live for. When I see a worry in my sons’ eyes, I always tell my boys we must keep pushing forward and always go straight ahead. I feel very grateful that we chose Fox Chase to guide us and be with us all the way through this trying time for our family.”

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