Cancer. The Big C.
Call it what you want, but it will still come knocking at the door of unsuspecting patients - even at the holidays. Luckily, although that doesn't change what such a diagnosis means, local treatment is not only available, it is excellent.
For Isabelle, who calls herself "WCA Hospital's poster child for early detection," the news was shocking but manageable. She has means to get to and from her surgeries and follow-up treatment at WCA Cancer Treatment Center.
Judith Thomas, manager of radiation therapy, performs a procedure on patient Rebecca Suber, at the WCA Cancer Treatment Center.
But for some patients, that isn't the case.
A magnanimous donor gave $5,000 to create the WCA Cancer Treatment Center Patient Assistance Fund at the WCA Foundation this year. It will help those who need that little extra assistance to receive their treatment at the center. Speaking about the anonymously created fund, Dr. Theresa Pagliuca describes the difference such assistance can make.
"Sometimes the issue is to help with gasoline," explains Dr. Pagliuca. "For some people filling up the gas tank is a stretch. When they have to make all the trips it become prohibitive. Co-pays can be reimbursed from your taxes, but transportation is not.
"It is a wonderful opportunity for people to give back out of gratitude for the services that have been provided for them or a family member."
"Other times the cost of non-prescription drugs - over-the-counter needs - are sometimes prohibitive to a patient. Having or not having them can make all the difference in the patient's quality of life," Dr. Pagliuca said.
"I'm so proud of my staff," Dr. Pagliuca continued. "We had a young mom undergoing treatments and my staff collected donations and went out and bought Christmas for her and her little children. We see the needs and we want to take care of them so our patients can get well. The extra stresses aren't good."
WHY A FUND
Creating this assistance fund at the WCA Foundation had a dual purpose. The named fund will perpetually support the patients of WCA Hospital and this community. The foundation keeps the donations to the fund in carefully monitored investments which returns interest to the fund. That interest is then used for grants for the purpose of the fund. In this case, the WCA Cancer Treatment Center Patient Assistance Fund, which began with a $5,000 donation, will be able to give grants of approximately $500 a year when it begins making grants. In the meantime, the community benefactor who created this fund is attempting to personally meet the needs of patients when they present themselves. Community supporters can donate to all WCA Foundation's funds at any time or designate their gift for immediate use.
As an oncologist, Dr. Pagliuca can attest to the importance of early detection.
"It's not just talk, it's absolutely possible to survive cancer," says Dr. Pagliuca. "It makes a big difference. It almost sounds trite, but early detection does save lives. When caught early, we have more options. Please get your colonoscopies - everyone. Please, please, please. And, ladies, do your mammogram, but don't forget your GYN screening. It only takes a minute but it does save lives.
"With breast cancer patients, the majority of cases we pick up are diagnostic studies, calcifications," Dr. Pagliuca said. "We use stereo or ultra sound for breast biopsies.
"Patients come in and say 'I have a lump,' " she continues. "More than 50 percent are asymptomatic people, but some do have cancer. Breast cancer is currently under 1 percent of our cases.
"The difference for men is there are no studies for men. Their breast cancer appears from a lump or breast enlargement," she said. "The last male breast cancer we treated was a 20-year survivor - then he had a second breast cancer. For the majority of men, they are detected by symptoms versus the screening for women.
"We don't have very high risk populations here for breast cancer," Dr. Pagliuca said. "If they have a history of breast cancer, they will get genetic testing elsewhere.
"Start at 50," says WCA's oncologist. "Colonoscopy is a very good tool. A CT colonography is an alternative tool being done by Dr. Dalton Ashby at WCA Hospital on the new CT scanner."
"Over time, screening high risk smokers we will help earlier detection. Smoking is a factor not only in lung cancer, but in many others and vascular diseases," Dr. Pagliuca said.
"It boggles my mind why people are still smoking two to three packs. If you don't smoke, don't start. If you smoke, please quit," she encourages. "Diet and exercise is also related to your well-being. Find a physical activity that you enjoy and fits your lifestyle - walking, dancing, playing with the kids, shovel some snow - it all counts.
FROM THE PATIENT'S EYE
From a patient's point of view, early detection can mean fewer protocols and less invasive or prolonged after treatment. For WCA's self-proclaimed poster child, that is the case.
"It was Breast Cancer Awareness month and I had just heard that my cousin in Los Angeles was diagnosed with an undetected cancer - and that's even though she was getting mammos all along. I went to WCA for my mammogram because my one breast was tender and it was a concern. It turned out that Dr. Ashby found a small spot in my other breast."
"He was wonderful," continues Isabelle. "He said he had time right then to do the procedure which would determine if it was cancer. I was so scared, but they were all wonderful. Dr. Ashby did it and one of the nurses told me what all the sounds meant and held my hand. That doesn't seem like much, but it helped so much. Everyone at WCA was just amazing so kind, so helpful and professional.
"I have 'ordinary' cancer not life threatening," says Isabelle. "'You are healthy and we're going to fix this together,' that's what Dr. Brown told me. We're a team and I like that.
"He puts the patient in the driver's seat and helps you get a hold of it," she said. "That's a good thing because it is a lot to absorb. The best news was when Dr. Brown did the surgery and told me there was no cancer in my lymph nodes. I am so lucky."
The WCA Cancer Treatment Center Patient Assistance Fund has already received support from donors in the Jamestown area. A former chair of the WCA Hospital Board of Directors, Elaine Short, and her husband, Allen, donated a gift to the fund in honor of the work two friends do for the benefit of the foundation and hospital.
"We wanted to honor our friends at the WCA Foundation for the work they do to support our wonderful Hospital. This fund seemed like a double winner - it supports those who are in a battle for their life at a really difficult time for them. It also helps two of our favorite institutions," Elaine Short said.
"It is a wonderful opportunity for people to give back out of gratitude for the services that have been provided for them or a family member. This fund is especially important to us because it helps those who are giving the excellent cancer care at WCA help their patients reduce stressful situations and it helps those in dire need," she concluded.
Large or small, gifts to this Assistance Fund - or any of the funds held at the WCA Foundation - will help those in need this holiday season and for years to come. For more information about this fund or the foundation, contact Brigetta Overcash, executive director, at 664-8600. The foundation gratefully receives gifts for the perpetually endowed funds such as this specific fund and for immediate use by WCA Hospital. All donations are tax-exempt according to the law. The WCA Foundation is located at 300 Prather Avenue, P.O. Box 840, Jamestown, NY 14702-0840.