In early August 2020, Jim Hellyer completed a half-marathon and was feeling better than he’d felt in years. Three weeks later everything changed, his stool turned gray and his skin turned yellow. He called his doctor, who sent him to the emergency room at AHN Saint Vincent Hospital. “That’s when they found the masses on my liver, spleen, and kidney,” Jim said.
A biopsy revealed high-grade, large B-cell, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Jim considered seeking treatment in either Buffalo, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh. “But my primary care provider (PCP) Dr. Brad Fox recommended The AHN Cancer Institute at Saint Vincent Hospital. It’s state-of-the-art, they have good people, and it’s close to home,” Jim said. “After that, it wasn’t a hard decision. I trust Dr. Fox. And my gut said not having to travel for care was the right thing to do.”
Days later, Jim met with his new AHN cancer doctor to discuss which chemotherapy treatment plan would be best. Because his cancer was very aggressive, the recommendation was an equally aggressive chemotherapy regimen called EPOCH-R. It’s a four-drug infusion, plus a monoclonal antibody, that’s given in the hospital over the course of six rounds, in one-week-on and two-weeks-off intervals.
Jim felt weak at the beginning of his chemotherapy, but by the third round, he started to perk up. That’s when he started walking. “I couldn’t leave the eighth floor, so I did laps around it. The pole with my infusion bag was my constant companion. I called it Long Tall Rita,” he said.
Before long, Jim was walking four miles a day. “When Rebecca, my nurse navigator, saw how much I was walking, she gave me a Captain America t-shirt.” By the time he had his last treatment on January 19, 2021, he’d logged 60 miles. “I’d basically done two marathons on the floors of AHN Saint Vincent. My nurses said they didn’t think anyone else had ever done that.”
With his treatment behind him and his cancer in remission, Jim worked his way back to running as soon as he could. “I completed Beast on the Bay in September, and a half-marathon at Presque Isle State Park in early November,” he said. “The same year I rang the bell.”
Jim recently had the honor of speaking at AHN Saint Vincent’s 2023 Gala to benefit the AHN Cancer Institute. “It was good for me to tell my story,” Jim said. “Staying local was probably the best thing I ever did. It literally saved my life.”
What’s new at the AHN Cancer Institute here in Erie.
At the AHN Cancer Institute at Saint Vincent Hospital, we’re currently in the middle of expanding our space and adding new technology to enhance the quality of cancer care we’re able to provide.
MORE FLEXIBLE SCHEDULING
The construction of our second LINAC vault should be finished late summer 2023. The LINAC is the device we use for external beam radiation treatments for patients with cancer. It delivers high-energy X-rays or electrons to the region of the patient’s tumor. Having two LINACs means we’ll be able to better accommodate patient’s schedules, start treatment regimens more quickly, and ensure little-to-no disruption once treatment starts.
FEWER RADIATION SIDE EFFECTS
The AHN Cancer Center offers LDR brachytherapy treatment for prostate cancer patients. LDR allows for higher doses of radiation to be administered directly to the tumor site. This localized treatment means fewer side effects because less normal, healthy tissue is receiving radiation. LDR brachytherapy may also be applied after surgery to help prevent recurrence of cancer.
GREATER ACCURACY AND PRECISION
We use Brainlab®* equipment to provide sub-millimeter accuracy for radiosurgery and radiotherapy for tumors of the brain and spine. Our new upgrades will allow us to use service-guided and thermal imaging (or X-ray tracking) for greater monitoring accuracy and precision during treatment.
*Brainlab is a registered trademark to Brainlab AG.
MORE WAYS TO STAY WELL
We now offer integrative therapies such as aromatherapy, breathing techniques and meditation, hand and foot massage, and seated yoga to help patients manage their symptoms and wellness.
MEET REBECCA MARCUS, MD, AHN SURGICAL ONCOLOGIST
Dr. Marcus is excited to be part of AHN Saint Vincent’s ongoing efforts to expand the services available here in Erie. She looks forward to bringing her clinical and research expertise to Erie and having the opportunity to establish long-standing relationships with her patients and their families. “The entire cancer center team has pushed toward expanding the capabilities and level of care available to the community. So you can get the same level and quality of care available in Pittsburgh or Rochester right here with your family support system nearby.”
To speak to our cancer center for an appointment or more information, call (814) 452-HOPE or visit erie.ahn.org