Skin Cancer Patient Heals -
Physically and Spiritually

Dan enjoys reading
in his spare time.

It's not a typical story, but neither is the outcome.

Dan ignored a growth the size of a pimple on his chest for seven years.

The 65-year-old said his growth wasn't painful, nor did it prevent him from working full-time, so he let it go.

"I had no great confidence in the medical community," said Dan, about why he neglected his condition. One reason was that a family member's medical condition had been misdiagnosed years ago, he said.

But his health deteriorated and he lost significant weight. With pressure from his two children, he finally saw an internist at Saint Joseph; he was admitted and operated on two days later.

First of Two Surgeries

In July 2008, he was diagnosed with skin cancer - basal cell and squamish cell carcinoma. A surgical oncologist at Saint Joseph Hospital removed the growth, which had grown to more than half the size of his chest. It was the first of two surgeries and five months of treatment - including two rounds of chemotherapy and wound care.

"I took out 90 percent of the tumor - down to the muscle," said Mark Connolly, M.D., chairman, Department of Medicine, and medical director, The Center for Cancer Care. "The cancerous growth had infected the breast bone, sternum and several ribs."

Dr. Connolly said Dan was put on a Wound Vac, a device that helps pull the tissue together, shrink the wound and remove excess fluid. The therapy promotes healing and helps blood vessels grow back.

"The first surgery left a large wound in my chest," Dan said. "That's when Marlene Balik came into the picture - she was absolutely sensational. She was very professional."

Healing Chronic Wounds

Marlene Balik, B.S.N., R.N., C.W.C.N., is a wound and skin care nurse. The hospital uses state-of-the art treatments to heal chronic wounds. Balik also heads up the hospital's 15-member wound and skin care committee.

Dan received treatment from Balik twice a week for three months. He had an option to receive home health care to avoid the three-hour roundtrip drive, but he wanted to continue care at Saint Joseph.

In October 2008, Dr. Connolly performed a nine-hour surgery to remove most of his breast bone, four to five ribs and sternum, and rebuild the entire chest wall to protect his heart and lungs.

Dan was impressed with the weekly collaborative oncology team meetings in which every patient case is reviewed. He knew his surgeon, oncologist and primary care/internist doctor had his best interests at heart.

Cancer Free, Back at Work

"My internist - Dr. Grendon - was my quarterback and put me in the expert hands of Drs. Connolly (surgeon) and Gilman (oncologist)," said Dan, who is now cancer free and back at work.

The doctors and hospital staff helped transform Dan's outlook on health care - physically and spiritually.

"It's nice to take someone whose disease has devastated their quality of life and be able to help them," Dr. Connolly said.

"I'd go back to Saint Joseph in a heartbeat," Dan said. "I got exceptional service. Everyone did their job with dedication and caring. Saint Joseph is incredibly special from A to Z."

* For privacy reasons, Dan preferred we did not use his last name in the article.

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