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Cancer Care Center

Newsletter — Summer 2011, Volume #1

Editors' Note

Welcome to the BMC Cancer Care Center e-newsletter. We look forward to sharing information and stories about the outstanding cancer care services and research activities that are taking place on our campus. We plan to highlight the impressive and often unique care being given by our physicians, nurses and support staff here at BMC. This forum also gives patients the opportunity to share their experiences with you, and keep you informed about the extraordinary work that goes on daily in the BMC Cancer Care Center.

Our quarterly format will focus on a particular area of cancer care, bringing you information about providers, our support network and services, research activities and other notable events. This newsletter is written and edited by the Cancer Care Center team, with contributions from Marketing and the Office of Communications. Please email your feedback and suggestions for articles to:  CancerCareServices@bmc.org


73 Years Young and Beating Cancer – Susan Curry's Story

A mother of nine and vice president of her community board, 73-year-old Susan Curry has no trouble keeping busy. She has committed herself to providing neighborhood children with safe after school activities and always manages to have a smile on her face. Known as “happy feet” by her grandchildren, she is often seen walking through the neighborhood, visiting with everyone and anyone, in hopes of passing on her happiness.

Susan Curry (right) smiles with her sister Betty at a 2008 Fourth of July celebration.

Susan's activities came to a screeching halt when in early 2006 she began noticing pain in her jaw. Through the referral of Pushkar Mehra, BDS, DMD, associate professor and Chair of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and the work of her local health clinic, this nagging pain led her to Boston Medical Center where Scharukh Jalisi, MD, FACS, Director, Division of Head and Neck Oncologic Surgery and Skull Base Surgery, diagnosed her with adenoid cystic cancer, a cancer located in the roof of her mouth and spreading into her skull base. In order to effectively battle the cancer, Susan would have to undergo both surgery and radiation.

Surrounded by her supportive family and faith, Susan recalled she wasn't scared. "Dr. Jalisi explained everything that could happen during the surgery, including the possibility of having to make several cuts on my face in order to reach the cancer," says Susan. "He looked into my eyes and said, 'we'll get it all out.'"

After a five-hour surgery, Susan woke up, looked in the mirror and found no signs of incisions. "I held my face in my hands and was so grateful," she recalls through tears. "I can't put it into words, but I know God has given Dr. Jalisi the hands to heal and I am just so grateful I found him."

The skull base resection Jalisi performed posed challenges, mainly because Susan's cancer was extending from her mouth to the base of her skull. This location made the cancer incredibly difficult to reach.

"We were able to successfully reach the cancer without any cuts to Susan's face," explains Jalisi. "BMC has a special expertise in skull base surgery that allows us to aggressively treat cancer, while maintaining the quality of life for our patients."

Since her successful treatment through both surgery and radiation, Susan has been cancer-free. She is back to her normal activities, sharing her sparkling spirit and remaining highly involved in her community.

"BMC has given me another reason to smile," says Susan enthusiastically "My wish is to touch people and lift them up the way I've been lifted up by the care and warmth at BMC."

Karen Miller (kmiller@bannerpub.com), Health Editor, Bay State Banner, contributed content to this article which first appeared in the Be Healthy: Head & Neck Cancer issue, dated February 3, 2011.

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BMC Utilizes Multidisciplinary Approaches for the Treatment of Complex Head and Neck Cancers

Cancers of the head and neck can have a profound affect on many basic daily activities including speaking, swallowing and breathing, and may have a significant impact on a patient’s self-image. These cancers often require complicated, 12-hour surgeries and involve several teams of surgeons as well as chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In order to effectively and appropriately treat and address head and neck cancers, a comprehensive, multidisciplinary team approach is required.

BMC was among the first hospitals in New England to utilize CyberKnife for treatment of head and neck cancers.

Boston Medical Center’s highly experienced clinicians include head and neck surgeons, oral maxillofacial surgeons, medical oncology and radiation oncology specialists, speech and swallowing therapists, nurses, nurse practitioners and patient navigators. These team members assist patients through the entire process from diagnosis through treatment and recovery.

Over the past six years, the Boston Medical Center Head and Neck Surgical Oncology service has grown into a regional referral center. This department utilizes state of the art treatments for head and neck cancer including transoral robotic surgery, endoscopic skull base surgery, minimally invasive thyroid and parathyroid surgery, minimally invasive airway and laryngeal surgery, and comprehensive microvascular and facial plastic reconstruction.

The Head and Neck Surgical Oncology division has faculty and expertise to surgically remove oral cavity cancers which can be extensive and may involve the tongue, floor of mouth, palate, cheek, sinuses, nasopharynx and jawbone and can extend into the neck, throat and voice box. These surgeons and their team are then faced with the daunting task of reconstructing the defect where the cancer was removed while at the same time trying to optimally maintain function of these vital structures. They reconstruct this area by using what is called a free flap – when tissue along with its blood supply is taken from another part of the body such as the leg or forearm, and surgically connected to the area where the cancer was removed. This requires intense manipulation of the blood vessels and is performed with the use of a special surgical microscope to ensure the blood vessels are appropriately re-attached. Postoperatively, patients may also receive care from our expert radiation oncologists and medical oncologists for radiation therapy and chemotherapy when necessary. In the recovery period, the multi-disciplinary team helps the patient adjust to life after cancer treatment.

Treatment of head and neck cancers often also includes radiation and chemotherapy. Radiation therapy targets the part of the body with cancerous tissue. The radiation oncologists direct high-energy x-rays at the tumor to kill cancer cells. Radiation oncologists have a variety of tools and techniques to choose from including intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), external beam radiation and brachytherapy – a technique that implants radioactive beads inside the body and CyberKnife, which delivers radiation in small but precise amounts of to limit exposure to surrounding healthy tissue. BMC was among the first hospitals in New England to utilize CyberKnife for treatment of head and neck cancers. CyberKnife provides advantages in treating hard to reach tumors anywhere in the body, many which may otherwise be inoperable. These treatments allow for pinpoint accuracy and the achievement of surgical-like outcomes, non-invasively, with no pain or anesthesia.

Another essential component in the multi-disciplinary treatment of head and neck cancer patients is medical oncology.  Medical oncologists are specialists in the treatment of cancers with chemotherapy and other drugs.  Chemotherapy is intended to destroy cancer cells and is delivered in the infusion unit located on the third floor of the Moakley building.  Here, experienced and compassionate infusion nurses and other health care providers offer the most current treatment options available to patients.

Utilizing the latest advances in surgery, targeted drug therapies and precision delivered radiation therapy, BMC’s patients are offered the most outstanding and comprehensive treatments for head and neck cancers available.

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Patient Navigators – Experts in Coordinating Cancer Care

Facing a cancer diagnosis can be frightening and overwhelming. To assist patients through the complex world of cancer treatment, Boston Medical Center has expanded the role of the Patient Navigator. These individuals assist in the development of comprehensive treatment calendars and provide support for patients and their families while managing complicated treatment plans.

Boston Medical Center’s hardworking Patient Navigators take a moment to pose outside the Moakley Building.

Patient navigators work to ensure that services are coordinated amongst medical personnel, while also addressing patients’ needs. Should transportation be a concern, patient navigators work to ensure that transportation to and from medical visits is made available for patients. Patient navigators also assist in arranging interpreter services when necessary and ensure that patients receive the most comprehensive care possible.

Since its inception a decade ago, BMC has made its patient navigator program one of support, encouragement and excellence. The patient navigator program has been focused on removing barriers to treatment, and has been recognized as the recipient of several high profile grants. In 2005, BMC’s Navigator program became one of eight institutions to receive a five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute to develop a patient navigator program.  More recently, BMC received a Minority-Based Community Clinical Oncology Program (MB-CCOP) award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This grant, which funds navigators at community health centers, is intended to increase minority enrollment in NCI-funded clinical trials with a goal of reducing health care disparities in cancer care. This new grant is building on the groundwork laid by funding received from the Kohlberg and Avon Foundations over the past several years.

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New Head and Neck Cancer Support Group Serves the Community

Jamie Riehle is no stranger to the fears and difficulties of undergoing surgery and treatment for tongue cancer. His experiences as a cancer survivor prompted him to work with doctors and administration to start a Head and Neck Cancer Support Group at Boston Medical Center.

Head and Neck Cancer Support Group founder Jamie Riehle together with Bob David, BMC Coordinator of Cancer Support Services.

The group meets on the first Wednesday of every month from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m., and is facilitated by Jamie, along with Bob David, BMC Coordinator of Cancer Support Services. Attendees include a range of survivors as well as those currently undergoing treatment. The group is open to men and women as well as their spouses and friends. While oncologists and other specialists provide the occasional guest presentation, the heart of every meeting is the direct sharing of experiences and encouragement that participants offer one another. Attendees come from as far away as Attleboro, Lakeville and Littleton to participate and receive and offer support. Food, beverages and parking are all provided at no cost.

Please contact Bob David at 617.638.7540 for more information.

Newsletter Editors:  Chris Andry, MPhil, PhD, Executive Director, Cancer Care Services, Robyn Souza, RN, MPH, Director of Operations, Cancer Care Services and Eric A. Stratton, Correspondent, Cancer Care Services.