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‘The Cancer Center Team is Like My Extended Family’: Steve’s Story

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Since Steve Fischer was a boy, he’s had a cough. Living in the Ohio River Valley, an area well known for allergies, Steve didn’t pay much attention to his cough. To him, it wasn’t anything to worry about, so he ignored it for years.

But about a year ago, the cough kept getting worse. He decided to get a physical with his primary care physician, who immediately admitted him to the hospital believing there was something significant going on. Within three days, Steve was in an Intensive Care Unit. Two weeks later, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.

Steve, 61, was stunned with the news.

“I really had no idea,” Steve said. “As a non-smoker, I could have thought of about 10 other things it could have been before I ever thought of lung cancer. I had worked construction and demolition in my past career, but I was always an office guy.”

Steve and his wife, Rita, moved quickly to find a second opinion. While Rita had done quite a bit of research on the web, Steve just wasn’t emotionally ready to go there. What she found led them to choose the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, where they met Dr. Goetz Kloecker, a lung cancer specialist.

“In October of last year, we met Dr. Kloecker and his whole team. It was actually seven people we met with that very first day,” Steve said. “We immediately felt very comfortable with the group.”

Dr. Kloecker verified his lung cancer diagnosis.

“When I first got to the JGBCC, I initially went through four chemo treatments and what surprised me – pleasantly surprised me – was that it was really like a family there,” he said. “Everyone’s very nice and everyone treats you like you are the only person in the world they’re treating that day – but obviously you are one of many. You can see others being treated in the chemo area.”

“But each tech, each nurse, each doctor treats you like you’re a family member. In fact, we’ve gotten to know a number of people there including volunteers,” Steve said. “One of the things that’s really cool about the cancer center is that volunteers are actually, in many cases, former cancer patients. They’re giving back to the JGBCC because they feel so strongly about it.”

After his chemotherapy was completed, Steve began a clinical trial in March of 2012. Clinical trials are the final stage of testing new therapies (after years of laboratory and safety testing) or new uses for older therapies.

“The program lasts about 18 months,” Steve explained. “You get a vaccine every 30 days, along with a physical and questionnaire. I did well with chemo, but it can be hard on you, and the clinical trial drug is made up of cancer cells like a serum. It’s injected into your body, and the serum attacks your cancer directly, and the idea is that it kills the cancer.”

“In fact,” Steve added, “one of the reasons we decided to go to the JGBCC was because you have options like clinical studies there that are not available elsewhere. I wanted to do that, and we are pleased to have had that opportunity as early as we have.

How does Steve continue to draw strength?

“This is a journey – you get snippets of good news and snippets of not-so-good news and snippets of news that might be marginal. But in every case, the lung cancer team has been optimistic for me. That, coupled with the support from my wife, family, friends and colleagues, is really helping me and my wife through this journey. Again, I have to say, the cancer center team is like my extended family.”

Steve said he looks forward to continuing in treatment and continuing to improve.

“I feel like with the treatment I’m getting at the JGBCC and the support that I’m getting from everyone, I know I’m on the right path – and that feels good because I really do want to be there for my wife, my kids and my grandkids.”

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