The first time Naheed Velji, MD, and Harold Hanson met in 2017, it was under rare circumstances.
Hanson was diagnosed with an uncommon cutaneous lymphoma, and Dr. Velji, a specialist in hematology and oncology at Augusta Health, was determined to help him fight it. “If you ask Mrs. Hanson, Harold has a knack for rare things,” Dr. Velji says.
Lymphoma is a cancer of the white blood cells that can manifest on the skin. Hanson received radiation therapy under Dr. Velji’s watch at Augusta for about two years, but the treatment couldn’t keep up with the cancer. As a next step, they decided to try immunotherapy treatments, but a blood test given prior to the first treatment showed Hanson had dangerously low blood counts. To determine the cause, Hanson had a bone marrow biopsy, which revealed that he also had acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive blood cancer for which the survival rate with traditional treatment is less than 10 percent after five years. Because of his age, Hanson was not a candidate for aggressive induction chemotherapy or a stem cell transplant.
“It was clear that we had to collaborate with the leukemia team at the University of Virginia Health System to come up with a treatment protocol that would allow Harold to maintain a good quality of life while trying to control his cancer,” Dr. Velji says.
At the University of Virginia (UVA), doctors suggested Hanson join a clinical trial for a leukemia treatment.
“My wife, Becky, and I wrestled with it, but given the doctors’ information that if something was not done, I would only survive for a matter of weeks, we decided to begin the clinical trial,” Hanson recalls.
In May 2019, Hanson began his treatment cycles at UVA. Each time he would have to cross the Blue Ridge Mountains with Becky or friends from his church for a week at a time. Because of the stress of the distance, the Hansons asked if the treatments could be moved to Augusta.
“The doctors at Augusta and UVA put their heads together, identified a need and cooperated,” Hanson says. He was able to continue infusion treatments at Augusta while Becky administered his oral chemotherapy at home.
In March of 2020, Hanson noticed the return of his lymphoma, but after a successful radiation treatment, he is feeling great, and his leukemia numbers continue to remain in the remission zone.
As Hanson has taken the changes of the last three years in stride, one constant has been the compassionate care he’s received at home and in the hospital. “That’s one of my favorite subjects,” he says when asked what he appreciates most about his care team. “I don’t think I’ve ever received anything less than full compassion and sensitivity.”
Whether offering him something to drink, a blanket to keep warm or help getting comfortable during radiation therapy, the nurses at Augusta are always attentive, even when they are handling multiple patients, Hanson says. “The doctors have been the same way. I have complete comfort in the decisions that are made. We’re always a part of it, which is great.”
“It’s like they have a new routine,” Dr. Velji says. “Every month Harold comes in for his infusion with his wife by his side and an audiobook to listen to.”
Becky and Harold have found a new routine at home, too. While he reads off the names of his prescriptions, she drops pills in his pill packs for each day of the week. “She’s taken care of it beautifully,” he says. “Because of my chemo brain, sometimes I would miss taking things when I should, but she’s got it ready for me. She cares for me as she has for the past 62 years.”
You can find more information about the Augusta Health Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders at augustahealth.com/cancer-center or by calling (540) 332-5960.