Photograph by H. Scott Heist
The irony of his story is not lost on Bill Mann (far right). The Doylestown resident spent the last third of his career as a scientist with a pharmaceutical company working on drugs to treat cancer. He never imagined he'd need cancer drugs himself one day.
In fact, he didn't know he had cancer until he went in for a routine blood test prior to an unrelated medical procedure about three years ago. He'd had no symptoms. "The blood picture was not normal," recalls Mann, 72.
He was diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia, sometimes considered to be a type of lymphoma. Hairy cell leukemia (HCL) is rare only about 1,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with it each year. He researched the disease and contacted his former boss for more information. Hairy cell leukemia is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). The disease is called hairy cell leukemia because the leukemia cells look "hairy" when viewed under a microscope. This rare type of leukemia gets worse slowly or does not get worse at all.
Bill's doctor decided there was no need for immediate treatment, but about a year later his blood work deteriorated. Bill sought treatment at The Cancer Institute of Doylestown Hospital. He was familiar with the hospital because he has taught the AARP driver safety classes there for several years. Bill did respond to the chemotherapy planned initially and, at the suggestion of a consultant at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital, also received a subsequent drug to prolong the remission. For nearly 20 years, Doylestown Hospital has been a member of the Penn Cancer Network, a select group of community hospitals affiliated with The University of Pennsylvania's famed Abramson Cancer Center.
Being treated at The Cancer Institute of Doylestown Hospital was certainly more convenient than going into the city for the same treatment. Bill describes all the personnel at The Cancer Institute as "absolutely marvelous. I can't imagine any more caring people." Though he suffered from insomnia and other side effects, they were temporary. "In general, cancer drugs have side effects," he notes. "Hey, I'm lucky I had a treatable cancer and the side effects really weren't that bad." Doctors gave Bill a positive long-term outlook and he says he's doing fine. "I can do everything I could do before."
These days Bill returns to The Cancer Institute not for treatment, but to share the gift of song. He's a baritone with the Bucks County Country Gentlemen, a barbershop chorus, and State Street Junction, a quartet that performs at local retirement communities, private parties and nursing homes. Every Valentine's Day, Bill and his fellow crooners serenade the nurses and patients at The Cancer Institute.
He's grateful to still be singing after experiencing such a rare disease.
He adds, "My wife says I'm unique anyway."