Teamwork at Tunnell is the secret to success
“Oh, I’m sorry, but Dr. Peri has just retired,” said the receptionist at the Tunnell Cancer Center.
I was crushed at that moment, and as far as one could be from the new term “crushing it.”
In fall 2016, about nine months before moving to Lewes, I had been diagnosed with a mild, what the doctors called indolent, type of lymphoma called splenic marginal zone. This medical journey began with a high white blood cell count discovered in the run-of-the-mill bloodwork for an annual physical. As soon as my internist said he was referring me to a hematologist, I told him I was relieved that I wasn’t going to an oncologist. Well, the joke was on me: He explained with a slight smile that hematology and oncology go firmly hand in hand.
After our move to Delaware, I still had no symptoms, but I wanted to get acquainted with a local oncologist, and Dr. Srihari Peri had come with a spectacularly enthusiastic recommendation from a friend of a friend back in D.C. This man had a very serious kind of lymphoma, the kind that comes with a dire prognosis. Alive and well today, he gives Dr. Peri all the credit for his continuing good health.
So after that crushing phone call, I glumly made an appointment with another doctor at Tunnell. When I went in a few weeks later, I felt comforted by the warm demeanor of the front-desk volunteer and the woman who checked me in.
Dr. Carmen Pisc impressed me as soon as we began to talk. Although this was just a get-to-know-you appointment, she had thoroughly read my chart. She was well-versed in my diagnosis, and familiar with the second opinions I’d gathered from doctors at NIH and Johns Hopkins.
Along with Dr. Pisc, I continued to see my Maryland oncologist, Dr. Paul Thambi, to whom I’d become attached. About every four months I saw one or the other for basic blood tests and physical exams of my so-far-untroubled spleen. Neither minded my team approach, and after a couple more appointments with Dr. Pisc, I was considering letting go of Dr. Thambi and those drives back and forth across the bridge.
Then I received a letter from Tunnell: Dr. Pisc had left the practice. Oh, no!
Resigned to getting to know yet another oncologist, I got on the phone to explore my options. Wonder of wonders, Dr. Peri had come back to Tunnell to help out, indefinitely. I have to admit I begged, and the kind scheduler gave me an appointment with him.
We had one cordial get-to-know-you session before September 2017, when I developed a high fever with a side of chills and was admitted to Beebe Hospital. Dr. Nisarg Desai and Liz Wilson, a nurse practitioner who works with Dr. Peri, came to see me in the hospital. They told me and my husband, Chuck, that my fever was not pneumonia as we’d suspected. It was my lymphoma in full bloom. The next step would be a treatment consultation with Dr. Peri.
I am lucky. Blessed. Dr. Peri ordered an infusion of antibodies called Rituxan, and no chemo. There would be four once-weekly infusions through October and then an evaluation. Dr. Peri spoke to Dr. Thambi about my care, and that made me feel a bit more secure.
Dr. Peri warned me that the first infusion could be awful. Most people have reactions when the medication hits the cancer cells for the first time. I was no exception, with a whole carnival of side effects: a full body and brain reaction that I still cannot describe, then, later on, a rash, then a bout of chills.
Dear Liz Wilson was right there, helping me medically and reassuring me emotionally, along with a whole team of skilled, compassionate nurses. My husband was amazed at how fast they responded the minute I said something was wrong. Physician’s Assistant Kelly Felix was quite the cheerleader for me as well. These professionals were there for me, in every sense, at the initial and subsequent infusions.
At one awful moment during that first infusion, I kidded Liz and said I was done; I was ready for hospice. She practically screamed, “For a mild lymphoma? There’s no way!” My husband reassured her that I didn’t mean it and reprimanded me for joking like that with someone who probably has to regularly tell patients they need to think about hospice care. I am not sure I ever apologized for my lousy joke, but I owe her one.
Every other infusion was uneventful. Best of all, the Rituxan did its job very well. Both doctors told me I could not have responded better, quickly entering complete remission. Now, for 2019, I am receiving one infusion every four months to prolong that remission. Splenic marginal zone lymphoma is chronic, but the treatment is effective and (mostly) not difficult to take.
I have never for a moment dreaded going to Tunnell. Every person we have encountered there, from reception to medical care to billing, has been wonderful. This is what one hopes for in oncology, but it is still heartwarming to be bathed in kindness from the minute you show up for an appointment or an infusion. And even though I had my own brief, initial issues with changing doctors, they both provided truly top-notch, compassionate care.
Today, halfway through my year of maintenance infusions, Dr. Peri, Liz Wilson, Kelly Felix, Nurse Practitioner Rhonda Owens, Customer Service Liaison Candi Corsiglia, the nurses, administrative staff and volunteers and I have become a finely tuned machine. In fact, I’d say we are totally crushing it.
Ann and Chuck Cochran are proud members of Beebe’s Annual Fund leadership 1916 Club. Members make gifts of $1,916 or more annually to support Beebe Healthcare. As a community-based, not-for-profit healthcare system, Beebe depends on the generous donations made by individuals, businesses, and private foundations. All size gifts to Beebe are welcome and tax-deductible. Please consider making a gift today and sharing your story with our community. To make a donation or learn more about Celebrate Excellent Care, go to www.beebemedicalfoundation.org, or contact Beebe Medical Foundation at 302-644-2900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.