Updated: Jul 10, 2019
Arlington resident Jerry Bitner is a very fortunate man – although it didn’t seem like it when he arrived at JPS Health Network in January with his body covered in painful sores.
After dismissing a skin condition he described as something similar to prickly heat for nearly three years, the situation suddenly spiraled out of control. Over the December holiday season, the bumps quickly turned into massive sores that rose above the surface of his skin in mounds the size of a ping pong ball. Finally forced to seek care, Bitner was shocked to learn what he is dealing with wasn’t dermatitis or eczema, as his internet investigations indicated.
It was lymphoma.
What’s so fortunate about that? Despite his delay in seeking assistance, the disease hadn’t spread to his organs during its three-year head start, oncologist Dr. Kalyani Narra said. He is also lucky the cancer has responded well to treatments and the situation, which seemed so dire six months ago, is expected to be completely cured in another three or four months.
“Usually, when we see this sort of cancer, it’s not nearly so aggressive and we can treat it with topical agents,” Narra said. “I haven’t seen a case quite like this before, and that was alarming. We had to use some targeted chemotherapy to attack the disease. But the cancer hadn’t spread to his lungs, liver or other organs, and that was the important thing. We’re very pleased with how things are progressing now.”
While he wasn’t initially excited about the idea of having to undergo chemotherapy, Bitner said he was pleasantly surprised there have been no debilitating side effects from the treatments. Although he said he was depressed for a couple of weeks after he heard the word “cancer” in his diagnosis, Bitner said he is thankful that he’s kept his energy and strength, he hasn’t suffered any nausea and he’s had no hair loss. Things started looking up right away. His sores have shrunk to a fraction of their original size, the pain they caused has gone away and he feels like he can live his normal life again.
Bitner said he waited so long to get care not only because he was convinced he was dealing with something much less serious than cancer – but also because, despite holding a full-time job, he didn’t have health insurance. He and his wife were forced to pass on what his employer had to offer because it would have cost them about $1,500 a month for a policy, and they couldn’t afford the premium.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do because, since I don’t have insurance, the last thing I wanted to hear was that I have cancer,” Bitner said. “Everyone has been so wonderful at JPS from the doctors and nurses to the social workers and the people who helped me get benefits and figure out how I was going to pay for all of this. I’m so thankful that they gave me my life back.”
While Bitner’s story looks like it will have a happy ending, Dr. Bassam Ghabach, Medical Director of the JPS Oncology and Infusion Center, said it’s still of primary importance that people see a doctor as soon as possible if they have a concern – or that they get regular testing if they have a high risk for the disease. About 38 percent of cancer patients who seek treatment at JPS are in Stage III or IV when diagnosed. Ghabach hopes the new JPS Oncology and Infusion Center, at twice the size of the facility it replaced, will allow patients to be diagnosed earlier and begin treatments sooner in order to give them a better chance to beat cancer. Ghabach said the center’s size also allows it to house all the necessary services cancer patients like under one roof, consolidating trips to see doctors, get testing and blood draws, have infusions and other needs done all at one time.
Bitner said he won’t count on being lucky twice.
“I’m really fortunate that they were able to help me,” Bitner said about his cancer battle. “I hope people can learn from what happened to me and, if they have something they’re concerned about, they’ll get it checked out right away.”
In need of medical care but you don’t have health insurance? JPS Health Network offers a variety of assistance to those who qualify.
For more information, call JPS Enrollment and Eligibility at 817-702-1001 or email email@example.com.