After Diagnosis, Choosing a Treatment Center

When I learned I had leukemia, my first thought was to be treated close to home at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass. The local hematologist who diagnosed me said it could be done, but the rest of my world thought otherwise.

I live 90 miles west of Boston, location of some of the best hospitals in the world, and, specifically, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, ranked among the top five adult cancer hospital in the country by US News and World Report. I was thinking convenience – proximity to my three children – but my sister lives in Newton, practically in Dana-Farber’s backyard. She and my brother-in-law could be a home-away-from home for my recently widowed mother, who lived in New York and wanted to be near when I was hospitalized. My former husband could move in and bring the kids to see me.

Never ending phone calls

The phone rang all day after the news got out. I was probably still in shock on the Thursday of diagnosis and the next day when I went to work at the newspaper where I was a reporter. I wanted to tie up loose ends on several stories that I was doing, and I didn’t want to be bothered.

I answered a few calls in the morning, got the gist of the Boston idea, and didn’t follow through. The phone rang on.

Finally, I relented and picked up. It was a high school friend. She convinced me that I had to go to Boston. But I didn’t have a direct referral and so I didn’t know what to do next. From my years of reporting on cancer treatment, I know this is a common dilemma: Stay closer to home or go a little further for better treatment?

Newly diagnosed cancer patients usually have time to sort out the pros and the cons. With an aggressive blood cancer you need to move quickly. It moved so quickly for me that I had little time to think and more need to go with the flow.

By now it was near the end of the day on a Friday. The information flowed in almost simultaneously from two ends, New York and Boston. My mother’s across-the-hall neighbor in the apartment where I grew up was a doctor. He said to call Dr. Richard M. Stone, director of the adult leukemia program at Dana-Farber. On my sister’s end, in Boston, her sister-in-law, another doctor, also recommended Dr. Stone.

The first of many strokes of luck

My sister called the doctor. We are forever amazed at my first of many strokes of luck. He picked up his own phone.

“Stone here,” he said.

My sister called me and said he wanted to know my blood counts. They were on a tiny piece of paper which was by now under many piles. My two editors jumped into action and rummaged through with me. The paper emerged. Red, white and platelets were all low.

He said he couldn’t fit me in, but his colleague, Daniel J. DeAngelo, could. I called DeAngelo’s office. Miracle number two: Late on a Friday, his secretary answered. She took my info and gave me an appointment for that Monday. She told me to pack my bags. It would be at least a couple of weeks before I would go home.

All these years later, if my sister and I see Dr. Stone in passing when I’m in Boston for follow-ups, one turns to the other and whispers, “Stone here.”

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