BY AMBER SMITH
When Carl Pesko is at the Upstate Cancer Center for treatment, he receives chemotherapy for eight to 10 hours the first day, and then two to three hours the next. He has had plenty of opportunity to chat with staff and to observe various procedures taking place. He says he has been extremely impressed.
Pesko is a retired high school guidance counselor who worked for 35 years at Fayetteville-Manlius High School. He knows how emotionally taxing it must be to take care of individuals with cancer, many of whom appear to suffer far more than he does. Yet, among the nurses and doctors providing care, “everyone seems to be excited about what they’re doing. They see improvements in their patients, and they know there is a progressive forward movement in dealing with cancer.”
Pesko, 71, of Syracuse began treatment for a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma called follicular lymphoma in November. He returned from a vacation with his husband, Tom Krahe, feeling overly tired, lacking energy and experiencing difficulty walking.
He expected his friend and primary care doctor, Paul Cohen, MD, would tell him something was wrong with his heart. What Pesko described sounded more like a form of cancer. Testing confirmed Cohen’s suspicions, and the doctor referred Pesko to Upstate oncologist Teresa Gentile, MD, PhD, for treatment.
He was scheduled for chemotherapy every five weeks. After the first two sessions, Pesko says 90 percent of his cancer disappeared. The treatments have not caused him pain or nausea, nor hair loss. His suppressed immune system, however, requires him to avoids crowds to protect himself against infections. He drinks lots of water, avoids caffeine and alcohol, gets extra sleep and carefully washes all fruits and vegetables to help strengthen his immune system.
In addition, every Monday he comes to the Upstate Cancer Center to undergo blood tests that give Gentile feedback on how well the medications are working. Pesko says he appreciates the design of the center, its warm, vibrant colors and the artistic elements, “which almost make you forget the seriousness of the disease you are facing.”
He also appreciates the people who take care of him, who make the experience as positive as possible. “I know I am in very, very good hands,” he says.
About follicular lymphoma
Lymphomas begin in lymphocytes, white blood cells that are part of the body’s immune system. Because lymph tissue exists throughout the body, lymphomas can start almost anywhere. The most common sites are in the chest, neck or underarms.
Painless swelling in one or more lymph nodes is a common early sign. Others include fever, persistent fatigue, persistent cough and shortness of breath, drenching night sweats, weight loss, an enlarged spleen and itchiness.
A precise diagnosis is important since there are many subtypes of lymphomas, and they are treated differently. This means patients often require imaging tests, blood tests and biopsies.
Follicular lymphoma, the type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma with which Carl Pesko was diagnosed, grows slowly and usually responds well to treatment. Some patients receive chemotherapy with or without radiation. Some may require a stem cell transplant.
— Sources: Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, American Cancer Society
This article appears in the summer 2016 issue of Cancer Care magazine.