Ronni Gordon is  a cancer survivor and long-time journalist who has written about her journey, about health and fitness, and about how she and others have prevailed in difficult situations. She brings to her writing a mix of personal experience with knowledge about the health-care system and how cancer patients can navigate it. A graduate of Vassar College with a master's degree in journalism from Boston University, she is a freelance writer who worked in daily newspapers for more than 30 years. She has been published in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Dana FarberCancer Institute magazine, and Cancer Today magazine. She lives in Western Massachusetts with her dog, Maddie, short for Madison (Avenue) in honor of her hometown, New York, and is mother of three grown children, Ben, Joe, and Katie

Ronni Gordon

Taking Wear and Tear Out of Treatment

Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 03:57 PM

By Ronni Gordon

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I bought a car new at the end of 2009. It now has 105,000 miles on it. Some of those miles were put on during family vacations, but many are medical miles.
 
I frequently drive the 90 miles to visit doctors in the cluster of hospitals and medical buildings connected to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. These include a dermatologist, a dermatologic surgeon, a dentist, an ophthalmologist, and other healthcare professionals who treat me for the after effects of my bone marrow transplant. This, of course, is in addition to the hematology oncologists who see me for checkups every six weeks or so.
 
Considering that that the average number of miles per year on a car is 12,000, it means that I have driven about 75 percent more than the average person in the last five years. That creates a lot of wear and tear on the car — as well as on me.
 
One of my Boston appointments occurs every other month at the Kraft Donor Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. There, I am treated to “therapeutic phlebotomy.” This procedure removes a unit of blood, reducing the iron overload that can result from multiple transfusions during and after chemotherapy. (Too much iron stored in the form of the compound ferritin can damage your liver.)
 
I usually tack this on to another Boston appointment, and it turns into a very long day. The phlebotomy also tends to leave me weakened and anemic, making for a difficult drive home.
 
Some patients free up time by identifying appointments they can make closer to home. Some, for example, get checked by their local doctor in between appointments at their cancer center.
 
It occurred to me: Why not do at least the phlebotomy locally?
 
I made a few calls, and soon got connected with the right person at nearby Baystate Health in Springfield, Mass. My nurse practitioner in Boston faxed my prescription over, and I went in for a procedure last week.
 
There is always a certain rigmarole connected with getting medical treatment at a new place. But, in the end, the procedure actually went better in Springfield than it ever had in Boston, where the phlebotomist had trouble getting the big needle in my vein. This time the needle went right in, and the procedure took just six minutes.
 
The smaller room also offered me a chance to talk to a man who was donating platelets. I told him how grateful I was to the people who had donated for me, especially a certain man who had come in just when I was in dire need.
 
I told the man in Springfield that I wished I could have thanked that donor.
 
"We don't need any thanks,” he said. “It could just as easily be us at the other end."
 
I thanked him anyway, and was glad to be able to do it.
 
Sometimes a change of scene brings unexpected rewards.
 

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