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It was Memorial Day weekend in 1998 and Joanne Hartnett, who was about 50 at the time, was mowing the lawn. A neighbor witnessed her passing out in her yard. Because her speech was slurred, Joanne's neighbor drove her to the emergency room at their local hospital where doctors initially suspected she had a stroke.
Hospital x-rays concluded Joanne had a tumor on her brain. A needle biopsy also detected a tumor at the top of her left lung. Joanne was immediately admitted to the ICU where her brother was called in.
"After so many years of smoking, I guess it caught up to me."
Joanne was diagnosed with lung cancer with metastases to the brain. The doctors at her local hospital wanted to remove the mass in her chest first, but Joanne's brother disagreed.
"One of my brother's clients suggested we see the doctors at Fox Chase Cancer Center."
"My brother was more concerned with the tumor on my brain. One of his clients suggested we see the doctors at Fox Chase Cancer Center and a neurosurgeon at Wills Eye Hospital," recalled Joanne. She met with Dr. Michael Unger, a pulmonologist, and Dr. Melvyn Goldberg, a surgeon (who has since retired).
"My situation was complicated. The tumor on my brain had to be surgically removed before I could begin radiation - and Dr. Goldberg could not surgically remove the tumor on my lung until we could shrink it," explained Joanne.
"The neurosurgeon was to remove the tumor in my brain before doctors at Fox Chase could begin treatment on my lung," said Joanne. Three weeks later, Joanne developed another brain tumor which had to be removed. After two successful surgeries, Joanne returned to Fox Chase. Joanne started on a course of radiation therapy to shrink the tumor on her lung.
"My doctor told me that he had never seen radiation work so well!"
By the fall of 1998, after radiation, Dr. Goldberg reviewed Joanne's films. "He couldn't believe it. My doctor told me that he had never seen radiation work so well. He admitted that he wasn't sure I'd survive," Joanne added. "He said 'We are operating. No ifs, ands or buts. You don't have a choice.'"
An alternative to traditional surgery offered improved outcomes.
Rather than traditional lung surgery, which would involve an incision in her chest, Dr. Goldberg offered Joanne an alternative. Because of where the tumor was located, Dr. Goldberg made an incision in her back and removed the tumor. This allowed Joanne to have a much easier recovery than would have been possible otherwise.
"At Fox Chase, one of the nurses said, 'You're a name, not a number.'"
"The doctors and nurses at Fox Chase treated me so well. That's the nice thing about Fox Chase. At other hospitals, I felt like I was just a number. But at Fox Chase, one of the nurses said, 'You're a name, not a number,'" Joanne recalled.
The next winter, Joanne's follow-up CAT Scan revealed the cancer had spread. Joanne began an aggressive course of chemotherapy, which was successful.
"One of the best decisions we made was to go to Fox Chase."
Today, Joanne visits her doctors at Fox Chase for routine check-ups. "It is amazing that the cancer is gone. I really didn't think it would happen. One of the best decisions we made was to go to Fox Chase."
"As a single woman, I really counted on my family, friends and neighbors to help me. From making my meals, taking care of my yard and driving me to and from appointments, they were amazing. I don't know if I could have made it through the treatment without their support," said Joanne.
Now that Joanne is cancer-free, she took an early retirement and has a new outlook. "Life is too short. I want to spend my time doing all the things I never had time to do before. I enjoy biking, gardening, cross country skiing and traveling," Joanne explained.
"I always tell other cancer patients to go to Fox Chase. They not only provide the best treatment, but they arm you with the education you need."
"I always tell other cancer patients to go to Fox Chase. They not only provide the best treatment, but they arm you with the education you need to understand what is happening to you. Not all hospitals do that for you."