Patient Spotlight: A Grateful Heart

Allison Ruth

Allison and Ruth Schwartz

When Allison Schwartz’s grandmother Ruth aka Bubbie was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer, she wasn’t sure where to turn. But thanks to her mentor in the entertainment industry and the help of the T.J. Martell Foundation’s Patient Services Program, Bubbie was able to connect with the appropriate doctor to aid in her care and treatment.

“Marty Diamond, head of East Coast Music for Paradigm Talent Agency, is a mentor of mine and has been involved with the T.J. Martell Foundation for years. As soon as I said I needed to talk to him about my grandmother who was diagnosed with cancer, he and his associate Sara Foster were on the phone making calls on our family’s behalf,” says Allison, who works at Paradigm in New York City. “Thanks to Marty and Sara, I was on the phone with the Foundation’s CEO Laura Heatherly within two hours, trying to get my grandmother into Sloan Kettering where she wanted to go.”

Allison Grandparents

Allison with her grandparents at Paradigm in New York City.

“Laura immediately called a contact at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center who suggested that she reach out to an oncologist at the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University who had recently transferred to continue her work in ovarian cancer research and care,” said Allison. My grandmother was able to be seen by Dr. Jane Meisel who has been a wonderful help to her. It was a miracle that Laura helped Bubbie find Dr. Meisel, because Bubbie and Papa, along with the majority of our family, actually lives in Atlanta, so she did not have to travel for chemo treatments. This made her as comfortable as possible, and she was surrounded by our family at all times.”

The T.J. Martell Foundation’s Patient Services Program helps cancer patients connect with oncologists around the country for care and treatment. Thanks to the program, Ruth was able to be treated by Dr. Meisel in Atlanta and have a special surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering.


Ruth during chemo.

“It’s miraculous, miraculous, miraculous to be able to have this surgery at Sloan Kettering. With the kind of cancer I have, they sent me to palliative care but I am a vital 79 years old and even the doctor at Emory couldn’t believe I was her patient,” explains Ruth. “With a lot of love, support, prayers, good doctors and the right referral from Laura, we got me in the hands of the right oncologist. After just three chemo treatments, the CT scan showed just one spot of cancer instead of 50 so now we’re going for surgery at Sloan with surgeons who many people consider to be the best in America. Hopefully that will give me an extended period of life. Without my granddaughter, I would not have gotten to Laura. And without Laura, I would not have been able to get into Winship and Sloan and I got in in just a few days. It’s been great and this referral has been so helpful. This doctor is brilliant and kind and loving. Our whole family loves and trusts Laura.”

Allison will be forever grateful for the guidance of the T.J. Martell Foundation’s Patient Services Program. “Because there were so many unknowns with a diagnosis like this, we felt so lucky that the Foundation helped us make a plan for something that doesn’t really have a plan. It’s so good to know that in this crazy world with so many terrible things going on, there are still such good people. I feel so fortunate to have access to the support and friendship they’ve given my grandmother and we’re forever grateful!”

Patient Update: “I knew I would come out the other side just fine.”

Paul FitzpatrickWhen Paul was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer in 2008, he wasn’t sure where to turn. “It was quite a shock being diagnosed with cancer at 27, and I felt like I’d been thrown into completely uncharted waters. But the doctors who the T.J. Martell Foundation referred me to at Mount Sinai in Manhattan took fantastic care of me. It was clear from the start that they were the experts in their field. When another team first recommended an aggressive course of chemo that could have been debilitating, Dr. James Holland reviewed my case and recommended a less invasive course of oral chemo so I never missed a day of work because of side effects.”

That was almost nine years ago, and Paul is now in remission. At the time, his doctors were unsure what quality of life he would be able to maintain longterm. But he has since welcomed three beautiful children and a few summers ago he rode 105 miles to support cancer patients and survivors in his home state of Connecticut.

“I don’t want to trivialize anything, but looking back almost a decade later, it almost feels like a non-event,” says Paul. “Thanks to the talented people at the T.J. Martell Foundation, I knew from the beginning of this process that I would come out the other side just fine.”


Guest Blog Post: The Fight Of Our Lives

My Wife’s Battle Against Cancer
by Cameron Von St. James 

My wife, Heather received her diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma in November of 2005. It was the beginning of what would be the hardest challenge either of us would ever face. Just three months before, my wife and I had been on top of the world, celebrating the birth of our first and only child, Lily. We had expected to spend the next month excitedly preparing for Lily’s first holiday season, but life had other plans.  In an instant, our focus shifted to fighting cancer.

After giving us the diagnosis, the doctor made several recommendations for treatment.  We could visit a local hospital, a very good regional hospital that unfortunately lacked a mesothelioma program, or a specialist in Boston that dealt frequently in the treatment of Heather’s cancer.  I waited for Heather to express interest in any of the options, but it was clear to me that she was still paralyzed with shock and fear, and needed help.  I turned to the doctor and said, “Get us to Boston!”

For two months after her initial diagnosis, life seemed to spiral out of control. Between taking care of Heather, caring for Lily, scheduling trips to Boston, taking care of housework, and working full-time, my life was overwhelming to the point of tears sometimes. There were times when I just wanted to crawl in bed and never move again. I just felt a sense of unfairness for a new mother to be going through this. What should have been the happiest time of our lives was turned into a nightmare of painful cancer treatments and medical bills that were through the roof. I feared losing Heather and having to raise Lily alone and broke.  Despite having these fears in my head, I never let Heather see them.  I knew she needed me to be strong for her.

In time, I gradually grew into my new roles and learned to deal with them better. I learned to let go of my pride and ask for help when I needed it.  Our family and friends came through time and time again and helped lift the weight from my shoulders.  I learned to allow myself to have bad days, those are inevitable and sometimes even necessary, but through it all I never allowed myself to give up hope that we would make it through this. Heather underwent intense treatment including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation over the following months.  It was tough on our family, but we were able to pull together and fight through it.

This ending is a happy one. Despite the frightening odds against her, Heather beat mesothelioma and is now cancer free, and we’re raising Lily together, having learned so much during our experience. We’re stronger for it.

I credit my stubbornness with having lived through this and become a better person for it. I learned how to take care of my family, no matter what.

Now, Heather and I strive to provide help and support to those currently fighting cancer today.  We hope that by sharing our story, we can inspire those people to never, ever give up hope, and to always keep fighting.



Coping with a Cancer Diagnosis

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we are excited to feature several guest bloggers on this topic. Today’s post is from Jimmie C. Holland, MD, Wayne E. Chapman Chair in Psychiatric Oncology and Attending Psychiatrist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. She offers these tips for families who are dealing with a recent diagnosis:

1)      Communication is critically important between all members of the family. The more open and transparent it is, the better. Secrets usually turn out not to be helpful.

2)      Recognition of the stress on all family members. There is often a need for a family member to take on a new role (eg managing the household, cooking and caring for the patient) while also assuring that the job of the breadwinner continues. The role changes are difficult, both for those taking the new role, and for the person who is ill who must relinquish control and prior role to others; a “new normal” must be accepted by all.

3)      Frustration and even anger are going to occur; it should be identified as normal in these circumstances and become a topic for discussion among family members, often bringing them closer to one another by understanding how it feels to each one.

4)      There are families who pull together under stress and become all the stronger for it. They usually manage without help. However, some families lack cohesiveness and members are unable to support one another as would be helpful. It is important that these families ask for help. The American Psychosocial Oncology Helpline can help you find counselors in your community who can help: 1-866-276-7443.

Jimmie C. Holland, MD
Wayne E. Chapman Chair in Psychiatric Oncology
Attending Psychiatrist
Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center