Paul Klein certainly doesn’t miss his sessions of chemotherapy and radiation, but as funny as it sounds, he looks back fondly on those treatments.
“What I remember most is everyone crowded into a room with me, from my physician and nurses to my family and friends, all having a great time,” he says. “We were all laughing and enjoying each other’s company, and I think that helped me so much. I was with people who cared about me.”
Klein’s journey to that surprisingly joyful experience began in July 2018, when he first noticed some difficulty swallowing. The 83-year-old Head Waters resident chalked it up to being a “child of the Depression,” which fostered a lifelong habit of eating as much as possible, as quickly as he could.
But even when he consciously slowed down on the chewing, the problem persisted. That’s when he came to Augusta Health and saw a gastroenterologist. An endoscopy procedure revealed a tumor that, after biopsy, turned out to be malignant.
Klein had esophageal cancer, a type that is complex to remove surgically so instead is often treated with chemotherapy and radiation. In his first meeting with oncology, he learned that many people his age don’t get any treatment at all, since they may have underlying medical conditions or may be in poor health, which would make the treatments too taxing for a weakened immune system.
But Klein was in such good physical condition the clinicians decided to go ahead with the treatment. “I think there’s some irony there,” he jokes. “I was lucky enough to be a very healthy cancer patient.”
His treatment plan included five sessions of chemo, then nearly six weeks of radiation on a daily basis, with his last dose given on Dec. 31. It was quite a way to ring in the New Year, he says.
When initially deciding on Augusta Health, location wasn’t the biggest factor for Klein, since he’s an hour from the hospital’s Cancer Center but only an hour and a half from the University of Virginia.
What made him choose Augusta Health was what he saw in the room during those treatment days — everyone coming together for him, caring about his health and forming a kind of “Team Paul” group that made him feel comforted and confident.
Klein isn’t the only one who feels that way, according to Augusta Health radiation oncologist David Morgan, MD. “It may be hard to believe, but after seeing everyone in our department on a daily basis for many weeks, many patients tell us they will miss us — but not the treatments!” Dr. Morgan says.
The cancer care team prides itself on a collaborative approach to treatment, with a team of professionals who treat patients like one of their own family members, Dr. Morgan says.
For Klein, he’s awaiting results from a scan that will let him know if he’s cancer-free, but already he’s gotten back to the life he loves — writing books, running a hobby farm with his wife and playing with his great-grandchildren. If he does end up having to come back, it will be with much less trepidation than he had at the start of his cancer journey.
“It sounds funny, but I had a great time at the Cancer Center,” Klein says. “Of course, I’d rather that I didn’t have to have the experience, but I’m glad I had it at Augusta Health because I felt that every single person, from my oncologist and radiologist to the front-desk staff, felt happy to see me. They knew who I was, they treated me like a friend. And when it comes to facing something as scary as cancer, you want your friends there.”
Visit augustahealth.com/cancer-center or call (540) 332-5960 to find out more about Augusta Health’s cancer services.