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Cancer patients celebrate life

June 07, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Dr. Douglas Hess has seen "cancer from the other side of the treatment table."

The family physician from Shady Grove, Pa., told a group of about 200 cancer survivors and family members Sunday that his lung cancer was discovered a year ago. He said it was diagnosed as stage four and likened that to golf because "you like low scores, not high scores."

Under sunshine and showers, the cancer survivors gathered for National Cancer Survivors Day outside the Cancer Treatment Center at Chambersburg Hospital, where staff members and volunteers handed out plastic leis.

"Last year it was a country and western theme. This year we're going with the island luau," said Shendelle Clapper, a social worker at the center.

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"Everyone's case is unique," Hess told the gathering. Despite advances in treatment, he said the disease takes a different course with each patient, with some surviving beyond expectations and others succumbing too quickly.

"Some doctors call it the host factor or the immune response factor ... I call it the God factor," Hess said.

Hess likened it to farming. A farmer can follow all the latest scientific methods, but has no control over the rain or hail that can produce, or destroy, a crop.

He said the prayers of family and friends have been a factor.

"I am convinced this has been instrumental in my survival," he said.

Dr. George Dawson, a radiation oncologist at the center, said the support of family and friends can be crucial to a patient's outcome.

"That's why we have so many support groups," he said.

"I thought I was going to a scary dungeon ... This center was a lot of help to me," said Kathy Piper of Shippensburg, Pa., who was diagnosed with cancer in March 1996.

More than two years later, she is cancer-free, but remembers the fear.

So does her husband, Paul.

"You have to pull together. You know they're dependent on you for support," said Paul Piper.

"He was there to hug me when I'd say, 'Why me?' And that happened a lot," she said.

Dawson said the center provides radiation treatment and support groups for patients and families, but will offer more in the future.

The center will be expanded to offer chemotherapy, pharmacy and laboratory services, community education, prevention courses and research.

Dawson said the center provides about 8,000 treatments a year for up to 800 patients.

Dawson said treatment regimens have improved, with research determining breast cancer patients have as good a survival rate with six months of chemotherapy as they used to with 12 months, with less risk of contracting leukemia. At the same time, he warned people to be wary of a recent rash of news stories about possible new treatments.

"Typically, these guys are trying to get two things: Money and a Nobel Prize," Dawson said of pronouncements by researchers about breakthroughs.

"It really brings out a lot of false hopes," he said.

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