In today’s world, it seems everyone knows someone who has had cancer, or has been affected by it. Though there may be common threads among those diagnosed, each person’s journey through treatment is as unique as the person affected. At Hematology-Oncology Associates of CNY, we want to share some of our patients’ stories with you, so that you can get to know the person behind the diagnosis as well as their experiences and interactions with HOA staff and physicians. Here are some of those stories:

Meet Vincent: Athlete, husband, father, researcher.

I was diagnosed with prostate cancer after a biopsy in 2016. Initially, I didn’t even want to have the biopsy performed as I had heard so many negative things about them; however, my urologist urged me to have one and, after doing some of my own research, I agreed. When I received my diagnosis, I accepted it but was concerned about the seriousness of it. My urologist referred me to another physician in his group, who recommended a lengthy procedure that would require treatments five times a week for 5-6 weeks. 
A member of my church had experienced this and complained about it so after hearing that, I began to do my own research. That led me to HOA and CyberKnife®.

Much of my decision in choosing CyberKnife® was a result of it being a new procedure, with a shorter duration of treatment; In addition, it is much more convenient than the other options that were available. There’s no need for numerous trips to and from a facility that might be far from home. Dr. Alpert was not only knowledgeable about CyberKnife®, but she was kind enough to work with me to get it approved by my insurance company. That’s one thing I’ll say about HOA: they are competent and well-organized. 
I got along great with everyone there.

CyberKnife® treatment was totally painless. I had very minor side effects on just the last day of treatment and it didn’t stop me from pursuing my daily activities: I love to go to the library and do medical research and I was able to continue to do that. (I’ve had both of my hips resurfaced and still like to research and send medical articles to my surgeon!) We live in a time of extraordinary progress! 

If there were one thing that I’d want people considering CyberKnife® to know, it’s that it’s worth all the prep time…and the thing works!

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Meet Lori: Spouse, father, transgender woman, advocate

In 2011, I was diagnosed with what was then considered a virtually incurable cancer called Mantle Cell Lymphoma (MCL), which was discovered following a needle biopsy performed by an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) surgeon for tumors in my neck. Upon receiving this diagnosis, I was in shock. I left the surgeon’s office, sat in my car for a half-hour, and cried.

That surgeon referred me to HOA where I met Dr. Olga Kligerman. Her recommendation was a high-dose chemo treatment, as well as a stem cell transplant, which she believed to be the most effective course of action. I was encouraged to begin treatment as soon as possible as, 90% of the time, MCL is highly aggressive and can quickly become metastatic. I was hesitant to start treatment because I was feeling well at the time, plus I learned that there was a 25% chance of long-term fatigue as a result, along with an 8% mortality rate. While that statistic included people older--and probably more debilitated--than me, it still scared me.

Understanding my hesitation, Dr. Kligerman referred me to the Wilmot Cancer Center in Rochester where I saw Dr. Jonathan Friedberg for a second opinion. After this visit, both physicians conferred and agreed that I could delay treatment if I had frequent diagnostic testing. This “watchful, waiting care” approach lasted more than two years (it was initially expected to last just six months). I was thrilled to be able to proceed in this fashion and have Dr. Kligerman to thank for it. Her understanding, concern and support through the entire process has provided me with a much better quality of life than I ever though possible back in 2011.

As a result of being a part of the HOA community, I’ve had the opportunity to become a member of the Community Oncology Patient Advocacy Network (CPAN), which is the patient advocacy arm of the Community Oncology Alliance (COA). HOA is a chapter member of COA and sponsored my membership. This year, I traveled to Washington D.C. to speak to Congress about the importance of community oncology (private settings like HOA where people can receive treatment near where they live and work). I’ve found it extremely rewarding to be a part of this network.

Another thing that has been rewarding is my relationship with Dr. Kligerman. I’m grateful not only for her support during my cancer treatment but also for supporting me when I came out as transgender. She was one of the very first people I told. Her response? “That’s so fantastic!” She gave me a big hug and proceeded to give me makeup advice! I knew she would not be judgmental. My life has been so much happier and more positive since sharing my true feelings. Once you have cancer, you’re (more) aware of your own mortality; there’s just not as much at risk anymore.

I credit Dr. Kligerman with saving my life as well as becoming a dear friend. She was completely open to the idea of waiting for a safer treatment and with her support I felt confident enough to wait. In 2014, HOA delivered my chemo- and immunotherapy treatments which I completed in 2016. I remained active and kept working until the fatigue of the treatments got in the way. Dr. Kligerman told me that she had never lost a patient to MCL and had had excellent success with stem cell transplants. “You will have a long and happy life,” she said. And she was right! I am happy to say that since then, I have been cancer-free!

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Meet Tracy: Mother, patient, advocate and BLESSED!

When I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer in 2004, I was already facing some challenges: I was a single mom working as a substitute teacher. I couldn’t work full-time because I was responsible for taking my two children—who were 11 and 9 at the time—to school and the ride was one hour each way. So when I received my diagnosis, I thought, “And this, too?” I was shocked. Of course, my first concern was for my children. I knew I needed help, so I turned to my friends; one of them took me under her wing and introduced me to HOA. Here, cancer wears a face, and not a number. Let me explain.

I visited two well-known cancer centers, and at one, the physician I saw told me that she hadn’t taken the time to read any of my file in preparation for our appointment. This was after a six-hour car ride and an hour spent waiting to see her. She was impersonal, and had no respect for me as a patient. At the second center, I was point-blank told that I was going to die of breast cancer. 

At HOA, I began seeing Dr. Scalzo after my original physician, Dr. Maher, passed away. God has definitely gifted Dr. Scalzo into my life. When I saw him at one of the Komen races, he recognized me and made the connection that I had had a test done a few days prior and been waiting for results. He told me that I’d have my test results by the end of the day, and sure enough, by 4pm, he had called me with that information. 

I use the word “blessed” as one of the ways to describe myself because I have many reasons to feel this way: I’ve got a doctor who cares about me, and the staff at HOA—from receptionists to phlebotomists to billing—sees me as a person. I’ve been able to see my children graduate from high school and college, as well as see them get married. During my treatments, I was also blessed to receive a great deal of support from my local church community. In fact, as a show of solidarity, the women there wore hats for three months while I experienced hair loss. 

HOA encourages its patients to become advocates and then preserve the idea of “community oncology” by giving it a stronger voice. Thanks to HOA, I was able to learn more about community oncology by attending a conference they sent me to in Washington, D.C. Centers like HOA offer an attention to detail that you won’t find in a larger setting.  Everyone is friendly and genuinely cares for you as a person. I’ve met an amazing group of battlers in the Metastatic Cancer Support Group here.

I was at a crossroads when I came to HOA; I was fearful. And HOA made a huge difference. They were able to take some of my fear away. Why would anyone consider going anywhere else?

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Meet Della. Wife, mother, grandmother, and ADVOCATE!

I was scared when I found out that I had breast cancer. I had seen my brother go through cancer treatment and knew that I wanted a more patient-centered, nurturing experience for myself. I found all of that—and more—at HOA. Their windows were what drew me in; they were like a ray of hope. And while I was overwhelmed by the amount of information presented to me at my initial appointment, my nurse practitioner walked me through every detail of my treatment; and when I saw the doctor, he explained everything in a way that was easy for me to understand. At HOA, they get to know you and your personality; they want to make you comfortable, and their goal is to keep you out of the hospital as much as possible, which was the opposite of what my brother had experienced. If you find yourself on the path of being a cancer patient, trust me, it’s HOA that you want on this journey with you.

My biggest fear after receiving my cancer diagnosis was that I would have the same experience as my brother, which was that he felt pretty much alone at the facility where he received his treatment. There were small, cubby-style rooms that felt cold, sterile and impersonal. Plus, my brother saw so many different doctors that the information that was provided to us was often inconsistent; it was frustrating. 
At HOA, I was given a 90-minute evaluation appointment during which my treatment options were explained, step-by-step. I met Dr. Cherny, who would be my physician, and Kathy Snyder, who would be my nurse practitioner. Kathy told me that when I wouldn’t be seeing Dr. Cherny, I’d be seeing her. They got to know me, and my symptoms, and had my back the entire time.

At HOA, I felt that not only were my physical needs met, but also my mental, spiritual, and emotional needs as well. One day, when I was called in for treatment, I burst into tears in the patient waiting area when my name was called. Kathy just looked at me, and said, “I know.” While of course she couldn’t know exactly what I was going through, she knew that this was hard for me, and understood that I was going to break down from time to time.

If there was one thing that I’d want people to know about HOA, it’s this: If you can’t be home with your own family during treatment, you have your HOA family. They really are the next best thing. I’m coming up on six years cancer-free later this year and I would not have made it this far without HOA.

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Meet Susan. Friend, yoga beginner, survivor.

I was terrified when I found out I had cancer, but also knew I was going to fight with everything I had. With the doctors and nurse at HOA by my side, I never gave up hope. Going through chemotherapy is never fun, but I actually found myself looking forward to my visits because of the love and motivation I received from the staff. Everyone from the receptionists to the nurses and doctors were so kind and uplifting. They made me feel like family. I have been cancer free for two years and still look forward to going back to HOA several times a month to practice yoga with the friends I made in my cancer support group.

Meet Anthony. Grandfather, crossing guard, survivor.

My favorite thing in the world are my grandchildren. When I found out I had lung cancer, my first thought was “how long do I have.” I felt for sure that I wouldn’t be around to watch my grandchildren grow up. There were many things big and small that I questioned, including who would take over for me as the crossing guard at their school. The folks at HOA made me see things differently. Their expertise gave me confidence that I would survive. With the incredible care I received at HOA, I was soon back to guarding the roads and hearing my grandchildren yell “Hey Grandpa” to me every morning on their way to school..

Meet Dan. Father, fan, survivor.

I’m only 48 years old, how can I have colon cancer? That was the first thought that went through my mind when I got the news. After getting over the initial shock, I immediately went into survival mode, knowing that there was no way I was going to let cancer beat me. Thankfully, everyone at HOA shared my fighting spirit. It wasn’t long after getting my diagnosis that my daughter and I were back at the Dome cheering on our favorite team and feeling grateful that I had my own cheering section at HOA filled with the region’s most experienced nurses and physicians who were dedicated to helping me beat cancer.