It was January 2020, in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, when 64-year-old George R. was told he had throat cancer. A software engineer and Honorary Consul of Romania in San Francisco, he knew he had a fight on his hands — but he wouldn't be fighting alone. The El Camino Health Cancer Center was in his corner from the beginning.
"The nurses and all the people who took care of me did a fantastic job, at a very difficult time during COVID-19," George says. "They try to make you feel like family. They know you by your first name, and they actually make you forget why you’re there."
The team's social worker also provided emotional support for George and his wife. "She invited my wife to come, and they explained to her what I was going through, because she was scared too," George said.
"They handled everything"
A cancer diagnosis brings many life changes and stressors, at a time when energy and strength need to be preserved. So, the El Camino Health team aims to make getting care as stress-free as possible.
One of George's friends from Romania was going through head and neck cancer treatment at the same time as George. George became his friend's advisor as she received treatment in Germany. Though both received good medical care, George said, the El Camino Health experience seemed to offer a more holistic team approach, addressing all his needs and not just providing treatment.
The Cancer Center's team approach — with all the needed, highly respected specialists in one location — helped put his mind at ease. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, George says, they prioritized his schedule and took all recommended steps to protect him from exposure every time he came in for treatment. They also worked with his insurance company to ensure coverage and get authorizations for treatment and medications.
"I call the team of doctors my 'Dream Team'. They try to help you with everything — so you don't have to do anything but focus on healing," George says. "My insurance denied some things at first, but the Cancer Center handled everything. All I had to worry about was showing up for my treatment."
Personalized Treatment Plan
George first met with otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) Hussein Samji, MD, MPH.
"The doctor told me, 'The bad news is, you have cancer. The good news is, this is treatable,'" he said.
George had throat cancer caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), the same virus that causes warts. About 1 in 3 throat cancers are caused by HPV. (The HPV vaccine is now recommended at age 11 or 12, to help prevent HPV-related cancers and other health problems.)
In George's case, the cancer had spread to his tonsils, so an early step was surgery to remove his tonsils. Seven weeks of radiation therapy followed, managed by Robert Sinha, MD, medical director of the Radiation Treatment Center at El Camino Health's Mountain View campus. George also had three sessions of chemotherapy, managed by Shane Dormady, MD, PhD.
"Chemo is tough stuff, so I had some side effects," George says. "But each time I had a side effect, I had access by email to the doctors, and immediately they'd respond. If I needed medicine, they immediately sent it to the pharmacy."
George was treated for an infection on his leg while his immune system was suppressed and also spent one night in the hospital for infusion to correct an imbalance in his blood. He was informed about and prepared for these possible complications.
"Nothing was unexpected," he says. "When I needed to go to the hospital, they took care of everything. All I had to do was show up."
On with Life
George finished his treatment in April 2020, and the team gave him a celebratory bottle of apple cider. Currently cancer-free, he has returned to his full life as software engineer and sports fan — although he never stopped working from home during his treatment. He's also leading the Romanian American Business Network in Silicon Valley. He returns to the Cancer Center every three months for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and a positron emission tomography (PET) scan.
George is a champion for the Cancer Center and was excited to tell his story to encourage others and to let them know about the excellent medical care and genuine caring he received.
"They took such good care of me and made sure I was prepared and informed at every step," he says. "No one wants to have cancer, but I'm grateful that I never had a negative patient care experience throughout my treatment. The entire El Camino Health experience was fantastic."
Find out more about cancer care at El Camino Health.