Why Travel To New York When You Live Here?
“Don’t let economics determine where you get your care.” Linda (a friend of mine and former long term survivor).
It is really an exhaustive day, a nearly five hour commute each way, sometimes just for a 45-minute appointment. On a normal day, I have several appointments scheduled up in Manhattan at multiple locations. One of the most frequent questions I get asked almost as frequently as I travel, “why do I go all the way to New York City for my care, when there are so many doctors around where I live? It is a reasonable question, but unfortunately has a historical and statistical answer.
First, you need to understand what it means to be a long term survivor. There is no set number of years to qualify. Although statistically, five years seems to be a magic number. ” 80% of such and such live to five years without blah blah blah…” It used to be that not much attention was paid to patients who survived decades later. Not by the doctors. Not by the pharmacutical companies. Not by society. So there really was not much in the books concering long term cancer survival.
If there are others, I apologize, but I am currently aware of only one doctor who has done this study for decades. That would be Dr. O up at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. O has been studying Hodgkin’s Disease and late effects from treatments for decades. Along with Dr. H out at Stanford U., the two of them are the top doctors in this field. They both operate what are called “survivor clinics.” A survivor clinic is where I go for all of my long term side effect issues. They know the follow up testing that needs to be done based on the treatments you received. And here is the crazy thing, at least in Dr. O’s case, he routinely has my primary care doctor back home do all the work, treatment and follow up. And they work like a team perfectly. My doctor admits that this discipline of knowledge is relatively unknown to her, just as most other doctors as it is not included in their studies. Where I benefit, is that she has an open mind. If I were a normal forty-seven year old man, most likely she would not order certain tests once, let alone annually. But Dr. O has the background, the studies to support how to follow up and treat those of us who were never expected to live this long.
Over time,mor clinics have popped up across the country, Duke University. Dana Farber in Boston, Vanderbuilt, and I believe there is one in Seattle. There are plenty more. There are also facilities that specialize in particular systems effected by cancer treatments such as radiation. The Clevelan Clinic is one of the, if not the best cardiac hospitals for patients who have had radiation therapy to their chest area.
Through internet support, I had known so much about MSKCC already, I just had to figure out how to get there, and if needed to frequently, the logistics of how that would work out. I could have gone down to Philadelphia where there is another good survivor’s clinc, but unlike MSKCC, I had not heard of anyone going there. This is not to say they were not good. Of course they are one of the top hospitals in the country for treating cancer, it would only make sense that they would be great at managing survival as well. But I had the opportunity to see Dr. O, who I consider the best in the world for dealing with long term effects. And I was lucky as well as blessed to get to be his patient. He does for me, what should have been done twenty-three years ago, and what is done automatically now for new cancer patients, follow-ups. He has a plan, just for me. He has another plan for another patient, and so on. I see several disciplines of medicine from gastrointestinal, cardiac, pulmonary, physiatry, psychiatry, and ENT. We are all different, but under his care, we are all treated with the best care available.
Because some of our side effects are so unusual, it requires knowledge of all the radiation strategies used decades ago, and the various side affects of chemotheraputic drugs. This is where I come in, where you might come in. Many of us do not have our records any longer from decades ago. Mine were incinerated. But Dr. O was able to figure out the protocol for 1988 for me, and the dosages, and that is what determined his plan to follow me up with. Now of course, it is not spot on. My body has decided not to follow even Dr. O’s book. But anything that occurs with me, he is made aware of it. My primary care doctor is made aware of it. I make sure that everyone involved in my care is made aware of it, and has copies of all pertinent reports.
So why do I go to Manhattan, on average once a month, if not twice? Peace of mind. I do get a lot of time to meditate to help me relax which is something I have a hard time doing. But I know Dr. O will leave no stone unturned if I complain about it. I knew each doctor that he refers me to, will treat my case as legitimate without having to waste time justifying everything. But as part of my treatment team, I need to know that I am included in everything being decided. And he does just that.