As I sat tapping on my computer for the eighth month in a row, I had a glimpse of defeat as I searched for yet another Physician that would take my brother as a patient. When my brother, Todd was diagnosed with Metastatic and Disseminated Hemangiopericytoma it was devastating. Not so much for the way he looked or acted, he looked and function completely normal- it was disturbing because there was no where to turn for treatment. There was nothing out there and I was reminded of that each time another search came up empty.
The physicians were usually dumb-founded and amazed that a human being could be walking around asymptomatic with so many lesions encompassing his spine, his liver, his heart and his brain- just to name a few. When I approached the physicians via email, snail mail or fax they usually asked me questions like: How much oxygen is he on? Is he mobile? Is he conscious? It was a bit alarming because Todd was just not breathing, functional and alert- he was LIVING as you and I are living right now. Actually the only difference was that he had these big nasty tumors that wanted to cozy up to his other vital organs.
After a nauseating 4 rounds of a non-specific chemotherapy, there was no progress in arresting the cancer. In actuality, the prognosis was 6 months to live. We decided that he would go home to his 3 children and I would keep searching for something… anything. I searched everywhere, most of the time I would never hear a response from the physician or office, but I kept on moving. Physicians that I did speak with told me- “Tahna- you are not a doctor, there is nothing you can do.” Other physicians told me, “You know more about this disease than I do.” I just remember thinking- this is my big brother… I have passion and I can read, and with that… I can do anything. There is something out there… I just know it.
Upon finding an article regarding George Harrison, I stumbled upon Dr. Lederman’s name. I emailed him regarding Todd’s case. Within 45 minutes, he responded and asked me to send the scans. At this point I nearly jumped out of my chair with excitement! I was notified within days that Todd’s case was accepted and a date for our consultation was scheduled. I researched Fractionated Stereo-tactic Radio-Surgery to the point of exhaustion. I put together a power point presentation to my family regarding what it is, what it is not, why this therapy, Dr. Lederman’s credentials and a list of questions for our appointment. We all were apprehensive, but hopeful.
Our first meeting with Dr. Lederman was great. He spent time with us, he showed us how the treatment would work, what the side effects were and he fielded all of our questions with grace. He had a dry sense of humor and he never once mentioned that Todd would die-been there and heard that before-nor did he say he was offering a cure. I simply liked him, his style, and his presence.
After initiating the treatment, my brother’s lesions that were treated had SHRUNK! It was so amazing! His oncologist in Reno, NV was bewildered and shocked! It was a great triumph over the last 8 months of everyone saying “6 months to live, there is nothing you can do, blah blah blah.” This treatment worked! Over the next 18 months my brother treated his lesions one at a time reaching up to 6 lesions and they all shrunk or remained the same size. We all thought this to be a great success and we celebrated.
While Todd was in treatment, Dr. Lederman wanted to conduct a patient educational video. He asked Todd to be in it, so on my birthday, Todd flew back to NY and participated in the video. Todd called me from NY to tell me of his time. He told me that he loved Dr. Lederman. That he was a great guy. Dr. Lederman took him down to Manhattan to check out Time Square and to taste the flavors of Dr. Lederman’s favorite Jewish Deli. His voice was filled with excitement and he was so happy. This was a big step for Todd, because for 20 years he met with Physicians and he never got close to them. He didn’t care if he liked them or not, he just wanted them to help him. Now, with Dr. Lederman he not only saw an amazing physician, but also a great friend.
Unfortunately, one of Todd’s untreated lesions ruptured and he succumbed to his cancer in January 2004. It was overwhelming for all of us. However, I think about what it is that Dr. Lederman and his team gave us during the time that Todd was his patient. They gave all of us “Todd” time. The memories that I have of my brother during those years are filled with great human moments. I remember him telling me how much he loved me, how much he appreciated me, that I gave him something that no one else did, time to spend with his family. I told him- I knew that Lederman was out there; I just had to find him.
Dr. Gil Lederman and I have had many conversations after the death of my brother. One conversation that sticks in my mind is that he asked me what I thought the meaning of life was…I asked him, “What are your thoughts?” He simply replied to me… love. Love is the answer. Dr. Lederman lives that thought. He cares about his patients, he cares about his work and he is making a difference in the world. He creates the possibility that something extraordinary can happen. Thanks Dr. Lederman… you rock.
Your Biggest Fan, Tahna Regan Fischer