Taking Charge of Your Health

I reported to Dr. Ruggiero that I had been
given a year to live, and he just smiled and said, “Nobody knows that. We can’t know that.
Let’s just get to work and see where we go.” I think that there are many positive and unique
aspects about the Weill Cornell GI Cancer Center. Many aspects include clinical trials,
precision medicine, a personalized approach, doctors that call you back– All these things
play a role in regard to how someone can be managed in the best way. I never feel like
I’m getting anything typical. I always feel like I’m getting personal, individualized
treatment on every level. Precision medicine is basically the cutting edge of what we call
personalized medicine. It’s meant to tailor the treatments that we offer very specifically
to the patient and to his disease. We examine the cancer on a cellular level to find out
what mutations are driving the growth of the cancer, and then we’re going to match the
best drug for that cancer. We try to define clinical trials, and we try to define therapies
that are based on the specific mutations and the specific genetic makeup of that person’s
cancer. The concept of a clinical trial in the area of cancer treatment is changing.
When a patient signs on to clinical trials, they have higher chance to benefit from new
treatment. I think the benefit to participating in a clinical trial is life. I was on it,
and it worked, and this is why I’m here three years later. Every year there are new therapies
that are being tested, and to have access to these trials is very important. We want
to be able to offer the best options for our patients before it’s available for everyone
else. The studies that we’ve done and the care that we’ve provided over the past couple
years has rather dramatically improved survival for these fairly common and often very difficult
to treat cancers, and that’s a combination of better treatments and better supportive
care. It’s been three and a half years since my diagnosis, and I’m still here. GI oncology
requires a multidisciplinary approach. By that, I mean that there are many doctors,
many specialists that need to be involved in a patient’s care. I think it is extremely
important that we are attached to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital because patients with cancer have
many issues that require the input of specialists. We have the best experts in the world. We
all get together, the radiologists, the radiation therapists, the surgeons, and we take every
case apart and decide what’s the best approach. It really does take a village to take care
of a patient. My whole experience was life changing in a wonderful way. The strength
that families have and patients have is moving, and if I can help them in their journey, I’m
blessed for that. Manish Shah and his incredible team at Weill Cornell have given me a second
act. You know, the reason why I’m here is because I was able to receive life. I think
that says it all.

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