Jack Tumelty has a briefcase full of his medical records and related documentation. He has meticulously kept track of his history with cancer since April 2006.
Jack, a 66-year-old Warminster resident, is a retired foreman of a power plant. He took a part-time job at a local home improvement store to keep busy. Not long after, he began experiencing “abdominal distress” like he had never felt before, he recalls. He felt a pressure in his gut that kept building. After he finally went to his doctor, Jack was admitted to Doylestown Hospital for tests. The tumor marker for colon cancer was positive. His colon was inflamed. He had multiple lesions on his liver.
Photograph by H. Scott Heist
His diagnosis: Stage 4 colon cancer that had spread to his liver.
“I had about 10 minutes to process this, then I had to call my sons and tell them,” said Jack. He and his wife, Barbara, are very close with their three grown sons. “After that, I had to deal with it and get on with business.”
The business at hand was determining how to beat cancer and get his life back. Up until then Jack’s health had generally been fine. However, he had never had a colonoscopy. He was reluctant to do the prep, he says. That April, the tumor in his colon prevented a colonoscopy.
April 22, 2006: Doylestown Hospital general surgeon Dr. Bruce Derrick removed the blockage. While Jack was recovering from the colon surgery, he met with Dr. Howard Zipin, an oncologist with the Cancer Institute of Doylestown Hospital, to work on a treatment plan. Dr. Zipin recommended a clinical trial in which a patient receives standard chemotherapy and one of two monoclonal antibodies. In May, Dr. Derrick placed the infusion port, ready to accept the medicine.
Jack wanted a second opinion, so he consulted with physicians at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. “They gave the same recommended treatment plan,” says Jack. He chose the Cancer Institute of Doylestown Hospital. “I thought I’d be more comfortable close to home,” Jack says. “I’m not a city boy.”
May 31, 2006: Jack began his first treatment at Doylestown Hospital.
He went to The Cancer Institute every week for five months. His chemo treatments alternated between 11/2-hour and 5-hour sessions. Barbara would come and sit with him. He did crossword puzzles and listened to country music on the iPod that hung around his neck. He watched the tropical fish in the fish tank. He took notes. He got to know the staff at the Cancer Institute.
“They always had smiles on their faces,” he said. He asked the nurses how they managed dealing with cancer day in and day out, seeing people struggle with their disease and not always win the battle. “They said ‘We do it knowing we make a difference for some people, that for some people their lives get better and there is some success.’”
When compared to national and regional averages, cancer patients treated at the Cancer Institute of Doylestown Hospital have equivalent or better survival rates.
Jack liked the team approach that was taken to fighting his cancer. Dr. Zipin was his primary oncologist; he met most of the other oncologists and many of the nurses. Since he decided to participate in one of the clinical trials offered by the Cancer Institute, he had an extra nurse overseeing his care and follow-up. 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. Network hospitals can draw on the university's resources, and also participate in its extensive clinical trials program.
The Cancer Institute of Doylestown Hospital offers all aspects of cancer care in diagnosis, treatment, after care and support. With the opening of Penn Radiation Oncology at Doylestown Hospital, the highest quality, most advanced cancer therapy is available to patients in the Doylestown region.
Jack was eligible and participated in Clinical Trial C80405 for stage IV colon or rectal cancer. Doylestown Hospital’s Oncology Research Nurse Laura Heacock, RN, BSN, OCN set up his schedule and followed his care through-out treatment and continues to follow his survival of metastatic colon cancer. He received FOLFOX, a combination of three chemotherapy drugs and Cetuximab, a monoclonal antibody that targets a specific protein on the cancer. The treatment shrunk the cancer enough that he was able to have the remaining cancer in his liver surgically removed. This study remains open to new metastatic colon or rectal cancer patients.
October 18, 2006: Jack had his last treatment. He then became the first patient to ring the bell that signals the end of treatment. The bell that hangs on the wall of the Cancer Institute is inscribed with words of courage and strength. “It was a real honor to be the first to ring the bell,” Jack says. The ringing of the bell is a momentous occasion attended by physicians, nurses and family. “I wrote a small speech,” says Jack, “but I could hardly get through the words.” At first he gave the bell a “little” clang. “Then the next time I clanged the heck out of it.”
Jack has been disease-free since the surgery on his liver. He looks at that special bell each time he goes in to the Cancer Institute, every eight weeks for the care of his port. Jack wanted to leave the port intact until the five-year anniversary of his diagnosis.
As for the care he received at Doylestown Hospital, “Mine was excellent. I had a good outcome. I was very pleased with the team and the positive attitude they gave me.” He does not regret not going to the bigger city university hospital.
“It’s all right here,” says Jack. “You get excellent care and it’s very convenient. Everything was right there.”
Jack’s back to gardening and spending weekends down at the Jersey shore. He fishes with his three sons and enjoys spending time with his six grandchildren.
“I was afraid to use the word ‘survivor’ a year ago,” says Jack. “I’m a little more comfortable with it.”
His advice? Be your own advocate, maintain strict documentation, and go for your check-ups. And get a colonoscopy.