Zach is ready to play ball again after cancer treatment

Zach Ellingson has monthly appointments with his oncologist, Karol Kerr, MD.

Zach Ellingson has monthly appointments with his oncologist, Karol Kerr, MD.

At the age of 8, Zach Ellingson had heard of cancer. It was a disease that other people got.

“Thinking about it now,” he says as a 12-year-old, “I know that I am ‘other people’ to other people.”

Zach is recovering from acute lymphocytic leukemia, the most common type of cancer in childhood, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

“He was a very, very sick boy for a while,” says his mother,  Jennifer DeWeerth, of Clinton.

She says that Zach started getting sick around spring break of second grade in 2010. He had one cold after another, and pink eye, and strep throat, and he was very tired. The family cancelled a weekend trip because Zach was feeling so bad. That weekend, he started vomiting dark blood.

His pediatrician ordered blood tests and quickly sent Zach to Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. Doctors found that Zach had the second highest white blood cell count they had ever seen.

“I was terrified. I had no idea what was going on,” Zach recalls. “I knew something was up judging by their emotions and facial expressions.”

Karol Kerr, MD

Karol Kerr, MD

The first night in the pediatric intensive care unit, Richard Sills, MD, took care of Zach. Then Karol Kerr, MD, oversaw the youngster’s treatment, which included seven months of chemotherapy infusions, followed by radiation. After that, Zach took a chemotherapy pill daily for three and a half years. He missed almost half of third grade.

Today he’s a sixth grader who comes for blood tests and a checkup every month at Upstate.

Leukemia left Zach with a brain that does not work like it used to. He does not think as fast as before, and his short term memory is lacking, DeWeerth says of her son. He fatigues easily, but he is getting back into sports. He plays soccer, lacrosse and football.

previewZach says he was hospitalized for a couple months, but it felt like years. Sleeping in the hospital was difficult with the oxygen mask he wore at first. He missed his friends, and his parents and brother.

But the worst part? “Probably just the suspense,” he says. “I really didn’t know if I was going to make it or not.”

The nurses and doctors were nice, Zach says. “They really took good care of me. And, there was a Tim Horton’s.” He has fond memories of blueberry muffins his mom brought him from the café and bake shop.

DeWeerth says her son has recognized some positives that came from his experience. “He has been able to see how strong he is, and it has given him a sense of compassion for others.”

Learn about the preview of the Upstate Cancer Center

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New publication shares mission of Upstate Cancer Center: Caring for patients, searching for cures, saving lives

cancercareWelcome to Cancer Care, the premiere issue of a quarterly publication dedicated to cancer patients, families and friends, caregivers, researchers, donors and everyone else touched by cancer.

This issue of Cancer Care heralds the opening of the Upstate Cancer Center, the Syracuse region’s most comprehensive resource for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. You will find a full array of outpatient services for children and adults offered under one roof, in a gleaming new building made possible in part through community donations.

We have the region’s only cancer program approved by the American College of Surgeon’ Commission on Cancer, achieving maximum commendation for the last 10 years. And, we are the region’s only provider for children previewwho have cancer. Upstate is proud to be part of the Children’s Oncology Group, an international network which provides the same treatments and recovery rates as high-profile national centers.

Our team of experts delivers personalized care, tailored to each individual patient, using a true multidisciplinary approach. Surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and other specialists work together as part of a staff of 90 board-certified physicians, all of whom teach as professors in Upstate’s College of Medicine.

Our Cancer Research Institute is staffed with scientists who are dedicated to finding cures for cancer and translating laboratory discoveries to patient care.

Within the walls of the Upstate Cancer Center, you will find top-notch medical care, a variety of support services and many nice details (a healing garden, meditation room, family education center and such.) But most importantly, this is where you will find hope.

Learn about the preview taking place Saturday, July 19

Read the premiere issue of Cancer Care

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New Vero machine targets tumors with precision

Vero_UZ_Brussels_newUpstate is one of only three institutions in the United States to offer the Vero, a 9-ton ring of sophisticated cancer weaponry that allows radiation oncologists to pinpoint tumors and deliver radiation with unprecedented precision.

Here’s how it works:

The patient lies on the treatment “couch.” After he or she is positioned, the Vero moves freely around the patient. With its unique pivoting head, the machine moves as necessary to provide unrestricted access to the tumor from nearly any angle.The advanced imaging technology built into the Vero shows a 3D view of tumors and organs. previewThe technology allows tumors — even those that move or shrink — to be located, targeted and then treated in real time.

The Vero can be used for many types of tumors and may be used on tumors that have spread and for those that are hard to reach surgically. Once the tumor is identified, the Vero’s precise delivery of radiation is achieved through several beams at different angles and intensities — all directed at the tumor. This means that radiation is concentrated on the tumor and less so on surrounding healthy cells and tissues. The customized treatment provides hope for greater cure rates and fewer side effects.

The Vero is housed in a specially constructed space in the new Upstate Cancer Center. Its addition complements existing technology to provide greatest breadth of treatment options in the region.

Learn about the preview of the Upstate Cancer Center

Hear a radio interview about the cancer center

Read the new publication, Cancer Care

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Sculpture, artwork in cancer center reflect outdoors

The artist, Steinfeld with her sculpture, which was installed July 9. Photo by Susan Kahn.

The artist, Ellen Steinfeld with her sculpture, which was installed July 9. Photo by Susan Kahn.

Sculptor Ellen Steinfeld was focused on creating something that would be welcoming and uplifting, representative of life and hope. When she finished, she had created a shimmery “Tree of Hope” model out of stainless steel.

previewHer work was chosen as the sculpture that will greet patients, visitors and staff at the cancer center entrance, several yards from the main Upstate University Hospital entrance.

“It’s like a tree, but it’s very abstracted. I tried to have the whole image personify the universal symbol of well-being,” says Steinfeld, of Buffalo. She says admirers “can read into it what they want. There is, like, a bird at the top symbolizing flight, or hope. Some of the exterior shapes can be symbolic of a heart or a person.”

Shapes were cut from sheets of steel like dress patterns are cut from fabric. Photo by Susan Kahn.

Shapes were cut from sheets of steel like dress patterns are cut from fabric. Photo by Susan Kahn.

Once Steinfeld made her design, she had raw steel shipped to a factory for a special finish that removes steel’s natural dullness. She worked with a computer-aided design programmer to create a cutting pattern. The shapes were cut using a precision waterjet cutting machine.

Then Steinfeld worked with a fabricator at the old Bethlehem Steel mill in Lackawanna to assemble the tree.

The tree is about 7 feet tall and will be mounted on a pedestal. In daylight, the sun will provide subtle variations in color. Lights at night “will produce much more dramatic and magical effects,” she says.

Both of Steinfeld’s parents died from cancer. So have many of her friends. “Art is part of the healing process, as far as I’m concerned,” she says. “Art is the living life. It represents life. That’s why it’s so important.”

The sculpture in front of the cancer center was welded at a foundry in Buffalo.

The sculpture in front of the cancer center was welded at a foundry in Buffalo. Photo by Susan Kahn.

Meet three more artists:

marius.bugMarius Dumitran

Of East Syracuse

Works: Photographs of plants, landscapes, trees and birds. An architect, he has been the senior project manager for the cancer center.

Background: “I used to be a painter. My passion for photography basically began when I wanted to learn more about painting clouds, because they are so elusive. From clouds, I jumped to flowers.”

Context: “It is proven psychologically that nature gives us a certain balance and refuge. That’s why many cancer centers try to set themselves in natural environments.”

GiehlMary Giehl

of Syracuse

Work: 4-foot wide wall installation called “Under a Microscope,” crocheted from sewing thread. Each circle takes about 45 minutes to craft. The finished product is mounted with insect pins.

Inspiration: algae. When people look at her work, “I’m hoping that they will think of organisms. Will they think of algae? Probably not. But the name ‘Under the Microscope’ will give them the direction of looking at cells or organisms.”

Context: She worked for 20 years as a nurse at Upstate University Hospital, caring for patients in the emergency department and the adult and pediatric intensive care units. She cared for children with cancer. And four years ago, she lost her brother to kidney cancer.

touchetteMMary Touchette

of DeWitt

Works: Semi abstract watercolors with mixed media called “Queen’s Lace” and “Pussy Willows.”

Message: “I would certainly hope my art would give people a connection with God our maker and to give them strength to get through. Cancer is a terrible thing to have to experience.”

Context: Her infant daughter, Ann was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in 1976 and treated at University Hospital until her death in 1983. Later, her brother died from lung cancer.

 Read a new magazine, Cancer Care

Hear a radio interview about the Upstate Cancer Center

Learn about the cancer center preview

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Growing a 4-season healing garden for the cancer center

Trees and plants were installed in June in the healing garden. Below right: landscape architect Diane Burkard talks with Martin Cleaver of ProScapes. Photo by William Mueller.

Trees and plants were installed in June in the healing garden. Photo by William Mueller.

Patients receiving infusions gaze through windows at the foliage of a four-season garden growing on the roof of the Upstate Cancer Center’s second floor. Visitors may rest on its benches. The space feels like a courtyard, with the cancer center on one side, a computer warehouse behind, and Upstate University Hospital on the other.

preview“It’s quite warm and sunny there,” says Danielle Carr, the project manager at Environmental Design & Research who oversaw the garden project.

One challenge was to choose plants that will be ornamental, even through Central New York winters. Add to that the challenge of planting on a roof. “The weight of everything and the cultural conditions are different on a roof,” says project designer Diane Burkard, also of EDR. “The growing conditions are more challenging and more severe, and the extremes of heat and cold are greater.”

She says that evergreens of various colors are included, along with plants that have interesting bark. “We have river birch and red twig dogwood, and we have different junipers. We have some Japanese maple in there. Those have a beautiful outline. The form of the tree is graceful.”

Around the trees are plants that do not grow tall and that offer variety in color and texture, says Carr.

“There are seasonal changes from early spring vegetative growth, to flowering, to colorful fall foliage. With the grasses and the perennials, there is movement. A gentle breeze will move things around so it’s not static.”

Such a peaceful space will appeal to those seeking respite — plus the birds that are part of nature.

Landscape architect Diane Burkard talks with Martin Cleaver of ProScapes. Photo by William Mueller

Landscape architect Diane Burkard talks with Martin Cleaver of ProScapes. Photo by William Mueller


Plant your own

Planting a seasonal Central New York garden means finding plants that provide interest throughout the year. This list–from Environmental Design & Research’s Diane Burkard, who designed the rooftop healing garden for the Upstate Cancer Center –includes spring bulbs, summer flowering perennials, fall blooming grasses and evergreens that provide structure and a backdrop for other plants during their growing season.


Anemone blanda (Windflower)

Scilla siberica ‘Spring Beauty’ (Spring Beauty Wood Squill)

Eranthis hyemalis (Winter Aconite)


Geranium ‘Rozanne’ (Cranesbill)

Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ (Goldsturm Black-eyed Susan)

Hemerocallis ‘Pardon Me’ (Pardon Me Daylily)


Amsonia hibrichtii (Threadleaf Blue Star)

Bouteloua gracilis (Blue grama Grass)

Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’ (Shenandoah Switch Grass)


Juniperus sabina ‘Buffalo’ (Buffalo Savin Juniper)

Cornus stolonifera ‘Farrow’ (Arctic Fire Red-twig Dogwood)

Betula nigra ‘Heritage’ (Heritage River Birch)

Listen to a radio program about the Upstate Cancer Center

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Nature theme provides refuge during cancer care

AmeriCUWhen you set out to design a cancer center, “there is a level of hopefulness that you want to communicate,” says architect Saul Jabbawy. “Where does hope come from? Hope comes from being in a great medical facility. A cutting-edge modern look reassures people of the level of care they’re going to receive.”

previewAt the same time, you want a calm environment that will help people feel relaxed.

That was the challenge for Jabbawy and the design team. He is the director of design for EwingCole, the architectural and engineering design firm for the construction of the Upstate Cancer Center.

“You never really get away from the fact that you’re struggling with cancer, but you want an environment that creates a level of visual stimulation that allows people to escape,” he says.

Exterior view of Cancer CenterThe gleaming blue glass-fronted building connects to Upstate University Hospital, sharing the circular drive entrance and a canopy-covered drop-off area. It consolidates outpatient cancer services for adults and children under one roof — and overlooking a four-season healing garden.

One of the first construction tasks was creating concrete bunkers up to 5 feet thick to house the sophisticated linear accelerators used in radiation oncology. While an integral piece of a modern cancer center, the equipment can be intimidating. So Jabbawy was mindful to create distractions.

A nature theme carries throughout the Cancer Center, and vibrant colors are juxtaposed against a white background in many hallways. Where possible, medical necessities are downplayed. For instance, “in infusion, we tucked all the sinks away so when you walk into the corridor the first thing you see is not a sink.”

The first thing you see is the garden, planted with foliage that will provide interest all four seasons. The infusion area is divided into an area for adults, and an area with zones for teens and children. The building contains rooms for medical exams and genetic, financial and other counseling services, plus a family resource center.

A grand staircase in the front of the lobby is meant to promote physical activity, although elevators are nearby.

Saul Jabbawy

Saul Jabbawy

Marius Dumitran

Marius Dumitran

Surrounding the outside of the building are narrow vertical windows against subtle horizontal lines, a feature that was deliberated for months, says Upstate’s Marius Dumitran, the senior project manager for the Cancer Center.

“If you look at that façade, it’s almost like musical notes in abstract,” he explains.

Let your mind conjure a song about hope.

Learn about the public preview

Learn about cancer care at Upstate

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What it takes to write a children’s book

Author Janine Werchinski-Yates says the book has been shipped to 16 states, plus five countries, including Canada, Mongolia, Ghana, Sweden and Germany.

Author Janine Werchinski-Yates says the book has been shipped to 16 states, plus five countries, including Canada, Mongolia, Ghana, Sweden and Germany.

Janine Werchinski-Yates of Baldwinsville appreciates exercising the creative side of her brain. “I’ve always liked writing,” she says. “I think it’s a nice release to get your ideas out there and use your imagination.”

The Upstate University Hospital laboratory technologist recently published a children’s book called “The Secret Sock Club.” Here’s what it took:

* The idea emerged from time spent in Laundromats. “I saw this little sock peeking out from under a clothes dryer, and I said ‘oh, that’s where they go,’ ” Yates says. Then her imagination conjured the Secret Sock Club.

* The time investment was about six years, start to finish. “It’s a learning curve to try to figure out how to get this together and make it happen.”

 * The illustrator, Michael Conway was the elementary school art teacher for Yates’ children. She had not seen him in a few years and then, at a time when she was frustrated by her search for an illustrator, she ran into him four times in one week.

At the Baldwinsville Public Library, she asked him, “Why do we keep seeing each other?”

“I don’t know,” he responded. “Do you have an art project or something?”

“Actually, I do,” she said. It turned out, Conway had always wanted to illustrate a book.

“The Secret Sock Club” sells for $15.99. Author Janine Werchinski-Yates says the book has been shipped to 16 states, plus five countries, including Canada, Mongolia, Ghana, Sweden and Germany.

“The Secret Sock Club” sells for $15.99. 

Yates was looking for an illustration with an old fashioned, comic feel, and Conway’s sketches were right on. “He’s really, really good at getting the emotions out of these socks,” she says.

* The cost of self publishing goes beyond the price of printing. There is also the cost of copyediting and layout, cover design and page illustrations, marketing and distribution, along with the fees to obtain the copyright, barcode and Internationl Standard Book Number. Depending on the number of copies and quality of materials, you may spend as little as $500 or more than $20,000.

* The assistance Yates needed, she got mostly from family members. Her oldest daughter, Francesca fine-tuned Yates’ language and helped edit the copy. Her youngest daughter, Ellie made suggestions about the story. Her son, Harrison set up her website at Her sister, Rose put her in touch with someone who designed the book.

“I’ve had a lot of help, really, and a lot of good luck – which is sort of the theme of the book.”

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Walking program helps Upstate earn American Heart award

On hand to receive the award from the American Heart Association's Michael DiGiovani (holding plaque) are Bruce Simmons, MD, Gregory Eastwood, MD, Deborah Hermann, registered dietitian Terry Podolak, and John McCabe, MD.

On hand to receive the award from the American Heart Association’s Michael DiGiovani (holding plaque) are Bruce Simmons, MD, Gregory Eastwood, MD, Deborah Hermann, registered dietitian Terry Podolak, and John McCabe, MD.

Upstate Medical University received the American Heart Association Gold Fit-Friendly Award for the second year in a row. The awards are given to American companies that take steps to make their employees’ health and wellness a top priority. Upstate encourages walking and provides walking routes; walking is said to have the lowest dropout rate of any physical activity.

Also this year, Upstate fielded the largest team (571 members) and raised the most money ($37,966) for the American Heart Association’s annual Heart Walk.


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Caregiver Advice: How to make a home ‘senior safe’

Some practical advice from Upstate’s Marjorie Libling, a social worker specializing in geriatrics, for making your senior loved one’s home safe:

In the bathroom:

* Use a nonslip rubber mat for the tub, and also for the floor outside of the tub. Avoid loose towels or rugs on the floor, to reduce the chance of slipping.

* Install grab bars in the bathing area, and invest in a proper shower stool that has rubber feet and a nonskid surface.

* Use a doorknob that cannot be locked, or one that can be unlocked from either side, in case your loved one suddenly needs assistance.

* Label the faucets “hot” and “cold,” and check the water temperature to make sure it is not hotter than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

MH900448501* Encourage your loved one to bring a phone or a medical alert system into the bathroom with them in case they need help.

* Get a weekly pill box or mechanical medication dispenser so your loved one does not have to open multiple pill bottles each day.

In the kitchen:

* Disconnect the stove if your loved one lives alone and is developing memory problems.

* Use coffee makers or electric kettles that shut off automatically, and label “on” and “off” clearly on any appliances.

* Sheath knives in a drawer or store them safely in a block.

* Move cleaners and chemicals to another room to reduce the chance of mixing them with food products.

* Check perishables every week so your loved one doesn’t consume something that has spoiled.

* Keep high protein healthy snacks visible, as a reminder to eat.

* Dilute wine with water or swap it with nonalcoholic beverages to reduce your loved one’s alcohol intake. Alcohol does not mix well with memory impairment, an unsteady gait and prescription medications.

In the bedroom / living room:

* Consider guard rails that can help your loved one get in and out of bed.

* Minimize blankets and pillows on the bed, so there is less to fall off, and keep floors uncluttered to reduce the risk of tripping.

* Label drawers and closets with the clothing items they contain.

* Tuck away power cords.

* Label remote controls with simple “on” and “off” instructions.

* Replace any burnt out light bulbs, and strategically place automatic nightlights in outlets to assure safe navigation at night.

* Use rug pads or tack down rugs with nails to help prevent falls.

* If your loved one refuses to quit smoking, establish one “safe” smoking spot that is away from the bed, the stove and any chemicals.

* Consider taking control of bank and credit accounts. Television shopping networks can become an addiction, and your loved one may find it impossible to say no to telemarketers.

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What to do for chest pain

Chest pain is one of the primary reasons people seek care at a hospital emergency room, and it can signal a variety of medical conditions, says William Paolo, MD, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Upstate University Hospital.

Among the most serious is a heart attack or acute coronary syndrome. Differentiating heart attack-induced chest pain from other types of chest pain is tricky.

“Your heart doesn’t have the same kind of nerves as your skin does. With your skin, when you have pain you can pinpoint where that is; that’s called somatic pain. When you have heart pain or pain in your internal organs, that is innervated by a different system; that’s called visceral pain. It’s very vague and nonspecific, more generalized. Sometimes you’ll feel like it’s in the middle of your chest, sometimes in your neck.”

Doctors pay attention to associated symptoms, as well. Is the person sweating, nauseous or short of breath?

Paolo says it’s simple: If you have chest pain you have never experienced before, get to the hospital emergency room.

If you are with someone who suffers chest pain:

  • sit them down and make sure they do not exert themselves,
  • call 911 for an ambulance, so that paramedics will be able to start treatment, and
  • consider giving the person an aspirin, a blood thinner, as long as they are not allergic.

Listen to this interview on HealthLink on Air radio.


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