In mid-September 2006 I was diagnosed with thymoma, a cancer of the thymus gland. I was told that this type of cancer is very rare, with about a thousand cases a year in the U.S.
After hearing those words, I went back home and jumped on the Internet, and it was apparent from the initial information I could gather that my condition was serious and that I needed to be in the hands of people who had experience dealing with it.
My first call was to Yale Cancer Center, where the phone was answered by Linda David, the case coordinator for the thoracic oncology program. Linda listened for over an hour as I told my story. She coached me and she consoled me. Linda helped me to understand what was going on and did everything she could to make the process easier. There was a lot to learn with respect to managing one’s care and this phone call was my first lesson.
On the last Friday of September 2006, I walked into 800 Howard Avenue and went to the second floor. That day my wife, Lucille, and I met many members of the thoracic oncology team. It was a little overwhelming, but it was very obvious that all the members of the team were kind, compassionate and competent, just as Linda had been the week before.
My diagnosis, stage 4 thymoma, was confirmed, and I was told that the path to treatment was going to be a long road of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. It was as though someone had kicked me in the stomach, but something else happened that day: I felt that this team—my “Yale army”—was going to be there for me and my family to combat my condition.
The team discussed a myriad of topics with my wife and me in the first meeting, including how the team operates, how to tell our 5-year-old and our 11-year-old that their Dad has cancer, nutrition, the logistics of transportation to and from Yale, side-effects of treatment, alternative therapy, surgery, long-term follow-up and much more. My surgeon and co-director of the thoracic oncology program, Dr. Frank Detterbeck [professor and section chief, thoracic surgery] gave me his business card, and wrote down his cell phone number. I’d never heard of such a thing—a doctor giving his cell number to a potential patient! When deciding where I should be treated, my wife and I agreed there was something special about Yale Cancer Center and decided that Yale was the place for me.
I began my chemo treatment in October 2006, and over the next several months I endured three cycles of chemotherapy, a 7-hour thoracic surgery, 30 radiation treatments, and two more additional cycles of chemotherapy.
Everyone who assisted in my treatment did a fantastic job, and the thoracic oncology team worked so incredibly well. The oncology arm, directed by Dr. Scott Gettinger [assistant professor of medicine], the radiation arm directed by Dr. Lynn Wilson [professor of therapeutic radiology] and the surgical arm, directed by Dr. Detterbeck, all clicked like a well-oiled machine. The survivorship clinic directed by Dr. Ken Miller [assistant professor of medicine] has also been instrumental in helping with my after-care.
I cannot imagine how superb it will be when treatment centers, support services, research facilities, alternative therapies, diagnostic and survivorship support are all in the same building. Having all these dedicated and compassionate people all in one place will be amazing.
In addition to my Yale army, my wife, Lucille, my two daughters, AnnPatrice and Marie, siblings, in-laws, friends, neighbors and my employer, made up my support team.
I’m grateful to say that after more than one year since my first visit to Yale Cancer Center, there is no evidence of this disease. To be here today doing what I’m doing is truly miraculous.
The dedication I’ve experienced has empowered me as I’ve joined the battle to help in any way I can. I do not plan to walk away from my cancer, and I plan to fight against it for myself as well as others. Whether it’s to help a newly diagnosed patient, raising awareness, sharing my story, promoting wellness, raising funds for research, or to help celebrate a moment as great as today, I will do anything to help further the cause against cancer.
The incredible generosity and kindness that we’re celebrating today will ensure that the extraordinary people of Yale Cancer Center will have a world-class, state-of-the-art facility that will empower patients so that they too can become a thriving survivor, just like me.