Corbin Christensen was three semesters short of a mechanical engineering degree at San Jose State University when he started feeling tired all the time.
For someone who had spent his school years as a star athlete in soccer, football and track, he was used to having lots of energy. When he discovered a lump on his neck, he went to see Dr. Emily Wu, his primary care physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Fremont Center. In January 2012, a needle biopsy and PET scans at PAMF revealed a bulky tumor in Corbin’s chest and he was diagnosed with Stage IIB Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “I knew there was something wrong,” Corbin recalled. “When I went to the gym I was out of breath and coughing. Now I know it was because the neck tumors were putting pressure on my aorta.”
Dr. David Lee, Corbin’s oncologist at PAMF’s Fremont Center, prescribed 12 rounds of aggressive chemotherapy treatments over six months, to be provided using infusion therapy – direct delivery of therapeutic drugs, or chemotherapy, into the bloodstream. Once Corbin completes chemotherapy, he will have five weeks of radiation therapy. “I had a fever after the third treatment, and fainted a few times from dehydration,” Corbin said, “but the nurses at the infusion center were great, and they taught me how to manage the side effects of my chemo”
Corbin’s grandparents accompany him to PAMF’s Infusion Therapy Center in Fremont for his four–hour, bi–monthly chemotherapy treatments, and oncology nurse Gina Portillo, R.N., has developed a close relationship with Corbin and his family. “Everyone at the infusion center knows me by name,” Corbin said. “Gina sits and talks with me and my grandparents during my treatments, and she always makes us laugh.”
Gina said she has a way of making people feel at ease. “This is a gift I have been given,” she noted. “I can sense when a patient is nervous, especially if it’s the first visit. Before I begin a treatment, I sit and give each person my full attention. I reassure them that they are not alone.”
In–kind and cash gifts from donors also convey that sense of communal support. New chairs and blanket warmers, all made possible by philanthropic contributions in 2011, provide comfort when it matters most. “Gifts like these help to relieve the burden of cancer on our patients,” said Gina. For Corbin, the support he receives at the Infusion Therapy Center has helped him to focus on his healing. “Before I was diagnosed, I worked at a health food store and worked out regularly,” he said. “When this is all over, I hope to go back to school and resume living my life.”
Care Close to Home
Before 2008, Palo Alto Medical Foundation patients in the East Bay who required chemotherapy had to travel across the Bay to our Palo Alto Infusion Center. Recognizing the need for cancer care services closer to home, PAMF recruited leading medical oncologist, David Lee, M.D., to head the development of a full–service medical oncology practice at PAMF’s Fremont Center. In April 2010, the Fremont Infusion Center opened with three chairs, and has since expanded to five chairs. The specially designed reclining chairs provide comfort for patients while therapeutic drugs are delivered intravenously, sometimes over several hours. With the help of philanthropic support and a matching grant from Sutter Health, the Center will have a total of eight chairs by the end of 2012 with the capacity to serve more than 20,000 visits per year.
Since the Infusion Therapy Center opened, the relationships among physicians, staff and patients have grown to be exceptionally close. As Dr. Lee explained, “It takes a very special person to work in this infusion center. Our staff is very close with one another, and patients put a lot of trust and faith in them. We want our patients to have access to the care they need, whenever they need it.” Oncology pharmacist Jun de Guzman concurred. “The patients are like our extended family,” he said. “Many people are nervous at their first treatment, but by the second visit they know they are in a safe place. Patients share stories and laugh, and many of them stay in touch after their treatment is over. They’ve been through a real journey together.”