After a devastating diagnosis, Jeffrey’s doctor enrolled him in a cancer research study that saved his life and livelihood.
Jeffrey clearly remembers the moment in 2002 when he first learned that something might be wrong with his health. An otherwise routine day was sideswiped by an unsettling observation.
“I was getting a massage after a workout and the masseuse said to me, ‘You have a lump in your neck,’” he recalls. “I hadn’t noticed the lump myself.”
Three years earlier, Jeffrey had relocated from the East Coast to the San Diego area to take on a job as a biotechnology executive. With a background in science and medicine, he knew that the suspicious lump might be harmless, but could also be a sign of something more serious. He reached out to his professional network to determine the best course of action.
“I had some physician colleagues in the area,” he explains. “They recommended Dr. Pushpendu Banerjee. He was regarded as an exceptionally competent oncologist.”
Enrolling in a clinical trial to treat a rare form of cancer
Upon visiting Dr. Banerjee, Jeffrey’s worst fears were unfortunately confirmed. A biopsy revealed that the lump in his neck was a cancerous tumor resulting from a relatively rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called mantle cell lymphoma (MCL). It is so named because the cancer originates from an inner layer of the lymph nodes called the mantle. In spite of this difficult news, Jeffrey remained focused on finding the best way to treat the disease.
“At the time, the treatment protocol was very toxic, and there is no cure for this type of cancer,” Jeffrey explains. “Because I am a scientist by training, I asked, ‘Is there anything on the horizon that we could try?’”
Together, Jeffrey and Dr. Banerjee explored the available clinical trials, focusing on emerging cancer drugs that were demonstrating promising results in the treatment of lymphomas. Clinical trials offer patients the opportunity to receive experimental medications and treatment methods not available to the general public.
The trials allow researchers and scientists to determine the effectiveness of the latest treatments before they are prescribed more broadly. Since cancer treatment is constantly evolving and improving, cCARE places a high emphasis on research and clinical trials.
“Throughout the whole process, Dr. Banerjee was really focused on me as a patient,” Jeffrey recalls. “He was approachable, knowledgeable and frank. He helped me get admitted to a study, and the medication had a quick and dramatic effect.”
It wasn’t long before Jeffrey’s lymphoma went into remission, allowing him to continue his busy and active life.
Fighting Cancer on the Frontline
Treating cancer is a joint enterprise
Since MCL cannot be cured fully, Jeffrey has partnered with Dr. Banerjee and the cCARE staff throughout the past 15 years, during which time he’s endured several recurrences. Due to regular visits and a heightened awareness of the symptoms caused by the tumors, Jeffrey and Dr. Banerjee have been able to catch the remissions at an early, treatable stage. Given the circumstances, Jeffrey has developed a number of meaningful relationships with the cCARE team.
“The nurses and everyone in the practice are very high quality, with a strong sense of mission,” he explains. “And Dr. Banerjee is the kind of person you have a lot of confidence in. He tells it like it is, but we’ve established a friendship that’s allowed us to talk about things aside from the treatment.”
He says it’s a joint enterprise to treat cancer. “You have a special kind of relationship with the people that are tendering that kind of care. My experience with the nurses and nurse practitioners – Cathy Haley, Susan Klein and others – has been one where I feel like I know them very well. Something was established early on that has remained. It’s a kind of mutual respect.”
Jeffrey lives to dance another day
A few years ago, Jeffery and his wife picked up ballroom dancing, recognizing the physical and psychological benefits of the hobby. They soon found that they had quite the knack for it, and they enjoyed it so much that they began training and competing on an international level.
“My wife is from China, so we often visit her family there,” Jeffrey explains. “On one visit to Hong Kong, we discovered an active ballroom dancing community. Many of the world’s best dancers come to Hong Kong for competition. We take lessons and compete here in California and now spend two or three months a year in Hong Kong.”
Jeffery continues his regular appointments with Dr. Banerjee to monitor for the recurrence of MCL tumors.
“Dr. Banerjee likes to joke that I’m not going to die of lymphoma, but of old age,” Jeffrey says with a chuckle. “Dr. Banerjee and his team are truly special.”