September 24th, 2014 · Leave a Comment
Michael Tessmer got out of his parents' car and stared at the hospital building before him. His parents had brought him to a hospital in his home state of Iowa for the first of 14 surgeries to repair a cleft palate. Each time, young Michael would be dropped off on the front steps of the hospital, and he would not see his parents again until the hospital released him.
"I don't know if that was hospital policy or what," he says. "But I'd be down there anywhere from two weeks to a month each time, all alone."
That did little to instill trust and confidence in the medical world. In fact, it did just the opposite. "I was terrified of doctors and hospitals," Michael says. "I'm not ungrateful that they fixed me. I'm very happy they did.” But he admits it left him with questions about that approach.
So after the last of his surgeries, Michael stayed as far away from doctors, nurses and other health care providers as he could -- going in to be seen only when it was absolutely necessary. Thankfully, that changed after one of Michael's daughters decided to go to nursing school. Read the rest of this entry »
September 11th, 2014 · Leave a Comment
By Paul Scotti
When 69-year-old allergist and rheumatologist Mike Mass. M.D., was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in August 2013, he quickly realized that being the patient and trusting the advice of a fellow physician with expertise in a disease outside of his realm of expertise would be a challenge.
“I’ve always advocated open communications with my patients about their treatment options, as it’s important for the physician and patient to be on the same page,” says Dr. Mass. “Although I’m not a cancer expert, I know enough about the disease to ask lots of questions of my own oncologist on the best treatment options available. It was hard balancing the need to express my opinions without impeding my physician’s own expert medical judgment.”
Dr. Mass was in private practice in the Jacksonville, Florida, area for more than 30 years before going part-time and joining an allergy group practice in 2008. That’s where he worked until his diagnosis in 2013, when he finally decided to retire from practicing medicine. He had known he was at a greater risk for contracting multiple myeloma for many years because of a condition called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance , or MGUS, which he was diagnosed with decades ago. MGUS is a condition in which an abnormal protein (M protein) is found in the blood. That increases the risk of developing multiple myeloma at some point in the patient’s life. Dr. Mass had no symptoms but found out several years ago after some blood work that his M protein levels were at the point where he now had “smoldering myeloma,” an early phase of this cancer condition. Read the rest of this entry »
September 2nd, 2014 · Leave a Comment
In 2011, Joan and David Hittner opened a letter from the Mayo Clinic Department of Development. Inside was a request: Would they consider donating $25 to support cancer research?
The Hittners quickly agreed that $25 wasn’t nearly enough.
“After what we’d just been through, that seemed a minuscule amount,” says David. “We started talking about what more we could do.”
The couple, from the Winona, Minnesota, area, had recently returned from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, where Joan had undergone surgery to remove tumors that had encompassed her pancreas and invaded her intestines.
Joan's battle with cancer had started six years earlier. She’d gone to her doctor with what she thought was a gallbladder problem. Instead, Joan found out she had carcinoid cancer, and she was told surgery was her only treatment option. “The cancer was incurable,” says David, and “chemo and radiation wouldn’t work.” Read the rest of this entry »
August 13th, 2014 · Leave a Comment
By Paul Scotti
Some people who overcome a life-threatening illness feel motivated to give something back to those who helped make their recovery possible. Charlie Willwerth, a 61-year-old leukemia survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient from St. Augustine, Florida, is taking steps to help bring life-saving stems cells to others in need of a bone marrow transplant.
Two years out from his bone marrow transplant, and with his leukemia in remission, Charlie recently completed courier training with Be The Match, the world’s largest bone marrow registry, to become a volunteer stem cell courier. His new “job” -- transporting life-saving stem cells from a donor’s location to a matching recipient -- can take him anywhere in the world.
“This is the most direct way I can help others who have helped me get a second chance at life,” says Charlie. “If it wasn’t for my donor, I might not be here today to have the opportunity to help others with needs similar to mine.” Read the rest of this entry »
August 4th, 2014 · 3 Comments
Sometimes the only way to respond to a thing of beauty is to pour your thoughts out onto the page. And that’s what Mayo Clinic patient Jerry O’Donnell, of Waterloo, Iowa, did after being moved, perhaps even changed, by experiencing the beauty of music in the atrium of the Gonda Building on Mayo’s Rochester campus.
Over the past year, Jerry has been a regular visitor to Mayo Clinic, after being diagnosed with a rare form of abdominal cancer located in the duodenum. It was a difficult diagnosis. “Over a short period of time, the reality of my health became more weight bearing,” he says. “Even while at Mayo, peaceful moments were difficult.”
When something like that happens, he says, your values change and things take on a new significance. Jerry found healing moments while listening to the piano in the atrium in the Gonda Building. “The piano became a refuge,” he says. “Music brought hope and connection. A larger family emerged before me as did a humbler sense of self with more gratitude for just being alive today surrounded by the treasures of my life, my family. Music like ‘It’s A Wonderful World,’ ‘Amazing Grace,’ and even ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ can change us.” Read the rest of this entry »
July 28th, 2014 · 1 Comment
At age 39, Tom Peroulas was active and fit. Coaching and playing rugby, biking to work in downtown Chicago, and exercising daily kept him in good shape. So when he started noticing pain in his leg, groin and hip, he thought it was probably related to activity. He tried stretching and yoga. He rested it. He worked with a physical therapist. Nothing helped.
After several months of persistent pain, Tom turned to his doctor, who referred him to a specialist in orthopedics. By the time he turned 40, in April 2013, tests revealed the startling reason for his discomfort: an uncommon kind of cancer called chondrosarcoma that begins in the cartilage around bones. The cancer was affecting Tom's hip socket, or acetabulum. But although the source of the pain had become clear, the best way to deal with it had not.
Faced with a wide range of surgical options, Tom dove into researching his choices. After an exhaustive search that had him talking with physicians as far away as Canada and Europe, he decided to go to Mayo Clinic. Using a unique technique for hip reconstruction, the orthopedic surgery Tom had at Mayo allowed him to return to his life with the cancer removed and chances good that he won't need another reconstruction in the future. Read the rest of this entry »
June 25th, 2014 · Leave a Comment
"There's something weird going on," explained the surgeon in Las Vegas, Nevada. For retired hotel executive Charles Livingston, these words signaled the start of a long journey, which began following an emergency appendectomy. He had experienced abdominal symptoms and received various diagnoses before being rushed to the operating room for a burst appendix.
Following surgery, Charles received devastating news -- he had metastatic appendiceal cancer. His local oncologist referred him to Mayo Clinic in Arizona where he met with Nabil Wasif, M.D., a surgeon, and John Camoriano, M.D., an oncologist. Charles says he was immediately struck by the genuine concern both physicians had for him as a human being.
Working together as a cancer care team, the physicians recommended a debulking surgery and hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC). Charles agreed to undergo the extensive surgery and HIPEC treatment to save his life.
It's here that fiction becomes reality. Charles says that just before his cancer diagnosis, he had finished writing his novel, Gabriel's Creek. The story revolves around a man who faces learning he is terminally ill. Charles says he had never imagined that his future would hold the same challenges as the main character. He admits that there were few edits to the novel, so perhaps he was unknowingly preparing himself for what lay ahead, he says.
Watch the video below as Charles shares his story.
June 20th, 2014 · Leave a Comment
By Paul Scotti
Being diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a serious blood cancer, is difficult enough to accept. But being told that you also have a rare hematologic condition called amyloidosis — a disorder that could prevent you from receiving the bone marrow transplant necessary to combat your myeloma — could put anyone’s strength to the test.
Such was the case for 67-year-old Kendall Schwindt of Sun City, Florida, a retiree who spent 26 years with Walmart and who has remained active playing golf and riding his motorcycle. After experiencing a sudden illness in March 2013 while visiting his son, Schwindt knew something wasn’t right. After visiting his family doctor, he was told he had a very high creatinine level in his blood and was sent to a local nephrologist for a kidney biopsy.
His diagnosis — multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells, a type of white blood cell present in bone marrow. Plasma cells normally make proteins called antibodies to help the body fight infections. But that wasn’t only devastating news Schwindt would receive. Read the rest of this entry »
June 4th, 2014 · Leave a Comment
In the summer of 2013, Amy Supergan took a trip to Italy. That may not sound extraordinary, but there was a time when being able to travel and enjoy a vacation with her family seemed like an impossible goal.
Amy faces a range of challenging medical problems, but at the top of that list is pain so debilitating she was forced to quit her career and give up an active lifestyle. But through the care she has received at Mayo Clinic and her participation in an innovative clinical research trial, Amy has found a renewed ability to manage her pain, and enjoy friends and family when she is able.
"Although I may never ski again or be back at work, with the help of all of my doctors at Mayo, I am now able to live independently with some assistance," she says. "I have found happiness in being more relaxed and appreciating some of the smaller things in life. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on life as I did before." Read the rest of this entry »
June 1st, 2014 · Leave a Comment
June 1 is designated National Cancer Survivor Day – a time to celebrate those living with cancer. It seems ironic, though, for one day to be called out as cancer survivor’s day. Let's be honest – once you receive a diagnosis of cancer, regardless of what kind, every day is essentially survivor’s day.
As a two-time ovarian cancer patient, I know this. But the word "survivor" brings some dilemma. Exactly who is a survivor? What defines a survivor? Are you a survivor after you've completed a six-month chemo regime? Finished weeks of radiation? Lived for x-number of years cancer-free? The question or definition of a survivor is something I and others have grappled with for years.
“Survivor” is a strong and powerful word. According to one definition, a survivor is one “who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks.” Sounds like every cancer patient I've ever known. But it’s also a label I’d apply to family members and friends. It takes a village to raise a child, they say. So, too, I believe to fight cancer. By that definition, aren't we all survivors?