At the Forefront of Cancer Treatment
Dr. André Goy is a firm believer that there is an ongoing revolution in cancer that will dramatically change the landscape and improve the outcome of patients. Dr. Goy explains that between the combination of a better understanding of cancer cell biology as well as the diversity of cancer, coupled together with an impressive pipeline in oncology (more than 3,000 drugs), we are on the verge to drastically change the way we treat cancer. This will include an effort in what is called “precision medicine” (i.e., tailoring the treatment specifically to each patient) as well as harnessing the immune system to prevent recurrence of disease.
As chairman of the John Theurer Cancer Center, Dr. Goy is very proud of the ongoing research in our institution which has resulted in more than 400 publications during the last five years, including five New England Journal of Medicine papers over the last 18 months. Our program is at the forefront in the development of novel therapies and strategies including stem cell transplantation (more than 380 bone marrow transplants were performed in 2014 at HackensackUMC). In addition to the science, we strongly believe in multidisciplinary care, as well as embracing the human factor in taking care of our patients.
Mark Piercy’s case is a great example of the expertise and experience provided in our program as well as the tremendous efforts of the entire team and the patient himself in overcoming a very difficult situation. In a single year, Mark, who is a detective with the Oakland Police Department, had to undergo very aggressive therapies for two successive blood cancers (first lymphoma, then leukemia) before undergoing an allogenic (from a compatible donor) stem cell transplantation more than three years ago. Today, he’s back at work, enjoying his family, riding his motorcycle, and taking his boat out as often as he can. “They saved my life,” Mark says. “Now I want to make the most of it.”
Mark was diagnosed with lymphoma in August 2010 and was treated aggressively with chemotherapy. Most patients respond well to this therapy, and Mark appeared to be one of them. By December, however, his blood cancer had returned, though this time he was diagnosed with a form of acute myeloid leukemia. Though Mark had just finished several months of intensive therapy, he was restarted on a very intensive regimen while we were looking for a bone marrow transplant donor. He was then fortunately able to undergo his bone marrow transplant and has remained in remission ever since. By replacing his bone marrow with a healthy one from a donor, we allowed the development of a new healthy and strong immune system that is able to prevent a recurrence of his lymphoma or leukemia. It is very likely that Mark is cured at this point. Mark was exemplary all along his treatment in spite of all the setbacks. He has become very inspiring to many of our patients who are also undergoing aggressive therapies. In addition, though he thankfully doesn’t have to visit us frequently, he stops by to say hello in the clinic and has a strong bond with the entire team.
The success of Mark’s story illustrates the comprehensive and highly-specialized care provided at John Theurer Cancer Center, where we have performed close to 4,000 bone marrow transplantations since the inception of the program at HackensackUMC.
Our stem cell transplant program consequently has become one of the largest in the world. The expertise of our team has allowed us to open a new Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplantation Program in Washington, D.C., in partnership with Lombardi Cancer Center/MedStar Georgetown University Hospital more than a year ago with very promising results so far.
Dr. Scott Rowley, chief of the Blood and Marrow Stem Cell Transplantation Program, coordinated the team that performed Mark’s transplant. “We are fortunate to have a very strong multidisciplinary blood cancer program together with the required support to take care of complex BMT patients at HackensackUMC and now Georgetown in D.C.” The Bone Marrow Transplant team in itself also requires highly-specialized nurses, transplant coordinators, psychosocial support, as well as nutritionists that help the medical team during the entire process for every patient.
Our entire program at John Theurer Cancer Center is dedicated to bringing innovative therapies to our patients in a friendly and compassionate environment. “I can’t say enough about the care and compassion my family and I received while I was at HackensackUMC,” Mark says. “From the very start, Dr. Goy said we were going to beat this. Having someone so knowledgeable make this kind of positive statement made a world of difference.”
The rapid and sustained growth of our oncology program is a testimony to the quality and expertise of the care delivered at John Theurer Cancer Center. We are also partnering for further research with the Stevens Institute in New Jersey, as well as Georgetown University in D.C. to continue to develop a translational platform that will be essential to continue to bring innovation to our patients. The main emphasis will be on precision medicine implementation as well as cell therapy/immuno-oncology, both cornerstones of the future of cancer care.
“It is the best time to be in oncology,” says Dr. Goy. “Medicine, and particularly oncology, is likely going to change more in the next 10 years than it has changed in the last 100 years.” John Theurer Cancer Center is definitely committed to being part of this new upcoming chapter and ongoing revolution happening in oncology. “We owe it to our patients to be as innovative and determined as possible, particularly given the exciting changes on the horizon.”
Setting the Stage for a Lifetime of Health
Ask Dakota Daniel about living a healthy lifestyle, and the 10-year old is quick with a helpful answer she’s learned from participating in HackensackUMC’s Healthy Futures program. Take smaller portions when you go to a party with your friends. Drink a glass of water when you’re hungry. If you’re still hungry after 15 minutes, eat fruit or oatmeal. And that’s just a start. Dakota has exercises she recommends and advice about maintaining her self-esteem and dealing with bullying.
This is exactly the kind of response that Healthy Futures team members hope to encourage. Healthy Futures is about health and wellness; it is not a weight-loss program. As Dr. Jennifer Sivitz, a pediatric endocrinologist and one of the founders of the program says, “We’re aiming at lifestyle changes. Small, incremental changes in children like Dakota will improve their health growing up and make a huge difference in their health and well-being decades from now.”
The multidimensional model that Dr. Sivitz and her colleagues at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital have adopted for Healthy Futures reflects their appreciation of the obstacles these children face. “Their challenges are social and emotional as well as physical,” says Janice Rose, a creative arts therapist with the program. Accordingly, the boys and girls ages eight to 18 who participate in the 12-week program divide their time between group counseling to build confidence and self-awareness, sessions with dietitians on making healthy food choices, and exercise under the guidance of fitness specialists. Because Dakota likes to help her mom, Felicia Robinson, in the kitchen, she really enjoys the cooking classes, though, as she says, “I like all of it.”
One reason Dakota gets so much from the program is that the staff is particularly skilled at helping children grasp complicated concepts like emotional eating. “Emotional eating makes intuitive sense to adults,” says Meghan Shine, a child life specialist with the program. “But with kids, you need to turn to games and other creative approaches so that they understand what emotions mean and how they can be connected with eating.”
Another element that is critical to Healthy Futures’ effectiveness is the recognition that parents are crucial to the children’s success. Parents buy food and make restaurant choices, areas that children can’t influence. Equally important, they play a critical role in reinforcing their children’s self-esteem and helping them follow through on their healthy intentions.
Healthy Futures parents attend sessions that cover topics from preparing fast, nutritious meals to motivating children to be more active. Parents can also meet one-on-one with program counselors. “I’ve picked up a lot of tips from the program,” says Felicia. “We started using quinoa instead of rice, and when we go out, we share portions. And I’ve learned how to respond to Dakota when she tells me she’s dying of hunger.”
These small changes add up. At the beginning of the program, Dr. Sivitz examines the children and records their cholesterol, blood pressure, body mass index, and other indicators of their physical health. The program’s psychologist also measures their self-esteem. “The children are significantly healthier, physically and emotionally, at the end of the program,” Dr. Sivitz says. Even with a few weeks left in Healthy Futures, Dakota seems, as Felicia says, “more comfortable in her own skin.” That’s the first step toward a healthy future.