Updated: May 18, 2021
The word cancer strikes so much fear into people that often their initial reaction after a diagnosis is to concede defeat.
“Sometimes patients learn they have cancer and they say they don’t want to have chemotherapy or radiation because they think it’s all over for them,” said Dr. Bassam Ghabach, Medical Director at the JPS Center for Cancer Care. “They say they’d rather enjoy the time they have left instead of enduring the treatment they need. The truth is, we’re getting better at cancer treatment every day. We’re also getting better at controlling the problems caused by cancer treatments. Nausea and sickness caused by chemo can be prevented or reduced significantly. It’s amazing how different things are now than just a few years ago.”
Patient Mark Howell went to his doctor in November, concerned that his throat was swollen. It was a blow to learn the cause was cancer. Ghabach said Howell was initially reluctant to begin treatment. But he was able to convince Harris, an energetic movie actor from Fort Worth, that chemotherapy wouldn’t be anywhere near as tough as he feared. The results have been excellent, according to Ghabach. On Wednesday, Howell had what may be his last chemotherapy treatment. He’ll come back in a few days for an examination to determine if his rapidly-shrinking tumor has been defeated.
Howell is eagerly anticipating his chance to ring the bell just inside the infusion room at the Center for Cancer Care that signifies a patient has completed their treatment.
“It’s tough to hear a cancer diagnosis,” Howell said. “But after I had a chance to process the information and think about it, I realized that it’s part of life to go through some things. I decided I was going to do it and I was going to come out of this better than ever before. I don’t know what I would do without Dr. Ghabach. He’s the best and I have all the confidence in the world in him.”
Why are the treatments so much more tolerable these days?
Ghabach said the reason patients don’t get ill like they used to is because support drugs that suppress the side effects of chemotherapy medications have improved dramatically.
“The cancer drugs are the same, it’s the stuff that goes with it that has changed,” Ghabach said. “Patients are fearful that chemotherapy is going to be a miserable experience. But in most cases we have several medications to use to that make the treatments much more tolerable.”
In 2018 the JPS Center for Cancer Care handled 40,461 total cases, an increase of about 12 percent over the 35,764 it handled the year before and nearly 17 percent more than the 33,780 it handled in 2016. The number of cancer cases treated by JPS has more than doubled since 2006, just a dozen years ago.
Ghabach said the reason for the increased number of cases is because doctors are not only helping cancer patients to live longer, they’re also getting better at treating other life-threatening illnesses including heart disease. The longer they live, the more likely it is that someday they’ll have cancer.
JPS will soon address the growing need for cancer treatment services by relocating and expanding its facilities dedicated to cancer treatment. The new JPS Oncology & Infusion Center will open this spring at 1450 8th Avenue in Fort Worth.
At 51,170 square feet, the new building will nearly double the current capacity to provide radiation and chemotherapy to patients. But, equally importantly, It will give cancer patients access to multiple specialists in one convenient location along with several support services like Social workers, nutritionists and psychological services for those struggling with the stress of fighting a sometimes deadly disease and the cancer survivors clinic which JPS pioneered several years ago.
Howell wasn’t sure what to expect when he came to the Center for Cancer Care the first time. He arrived armed with a bag that included a blanket, snacks to keep him going for the treatment that starts shortly after he arrives at about 8 a.m. and lasts until 2 or 3 p.m., and a variety of hats to keep his head warm and conceal the hair he lost due to chemotherapy. While he can deal with the hair loss, taking advantage of the bare skin to place a temporary Superman tattoo on top of his head, he’s really glad to avoid the nausea and sickness people equate with chemotherapy. He said he’s glad he’s been able to continue to work through the treatment process.
“I’ll go home and rest after this,” Howell said as he was beginning his most recent treatment. “But after a nap I should be good to go. I cooked ahead of time so I won’t have to make dinner when I get home. I’m not worried at all about how I’ll feel later. All I’m thinking about right now is getting home to that barbequed chicken.”