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Beyond Clinical Care: Colon-Rectal Cancer Patient Feels Heard and Supported at LVHN

Lehigh Valley Cancer Institute physicians brought one woman with colon-rectal cancer from completely stunned to a complete response

When Bath resident Diane Breinig heard “cancer” in reference to herself, she immediately thought, “I don’t want to die.” While Breinig’s stage 2 colon-rectal cancer diagnosis was considered early, she still felt scared and alone.

After undergoing radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery, Breinig has had a complete response. Breinig believes she would not have gotten through those months without her doctors at the Lehigh Valley Cancer Institute.

“I was extremely shaken up,” Breinig says. “My physicians calmed me down, really talked to me, and explained everything from start to finish.”

Importance of partnership with a patient

Breinig’s radiation oncologist, Dennis Sopka, MD, with Allentown Radiation Oncology Associates, immediately recognized that Breinig needed support and assurance.

“It’s an absolute must that a patient, like Diane, knows we understand and respect her concerns. I assured her our multidisciplinary team would work with her and support her throughout treatment,” Sopka says.

Sopka met with Breinig at least once a week during five weeks of combination radiation and chemotherapy treatment. “Our weekly visits allowed me to assess her clinically, answer questions, and see how well she was understanding the disease process,” Sopka says.

Breinig’s medical oncologist, Maged Khalil, MD, with LVPG Hematology Oncology, agrees that having a partnership with patients allows them to remain positive during their treatment journey.

Open discussion for course of care

“I like to really explain and talk through the individual options to every specific patient,” Khalil says.

A multidisciplinary approach that includes surgery, medical oncology and radiation oncology is required for optimal treatment of patients with colon-rectal cancer. Breinig and Khalil discussed different approaches including, chemotherapy plus radiation therapy as a standard approach for her disease stage. Also they reviewed two clinical trials that are currently available at the Lehigh Valley Cancer Institute through the National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP). It was decided to proceed with chemotherapy and radiation therapy combined approach 

“Diane was comfortable with this approach and she had a clear understanding of the risks, benefits and rationale of each approach,” Khalil says.

The overall prognosis for treating colon-rectal cancer is quite favorable if it is discovered early. Up to 90 percent of patients whose colon-rectal cancer is diagnosed and treated in the early stages can be cured.

As Khalil explains it, Breinig is one of those patients. “Diane had no evidence of disease at the time of surgery which we call pathological complete response (pCR) which can be achieved in 12 to 38 percent of patients. Patients with pCR have the most favorable long-term outcomes,” he says.

Breinig is confident about her future. “I trust that I am in good hands with my doctors and I have total faith in them,” Breinig says. “I know they are simply doing their job, but I will forever be grateful to them for the way they treated me.”

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