New York Hospital of Queens celebrates cancer survivors

NYHQ Director of Cancer Research Dr. Dattatreyudu Nori (r.) thanks cancer survivors Myra Baird Herce (r. to l.), David Kreitzer and Marie Czarnecki for sharing their stories of inspiration during the hospital's "Celebration of Life" event. Photo by Rich Bockmann
By Rich Bockmann

Doctors and patients as well as survivors and their loved ones gathered at New York Hospital Queens Friday to embrace the message of hope for a brighter future after cancer during the hospital’s “Celebration of Life” event.

Director of Cancer Research Dr. Dattatreyudu Nori said advances in research and the hospital’s comprehensive team of experts have led to targeted therapies that are more effective in treating the disease.

“Cancer is curable and there is hope,” he said, “hope for leading a completely normal life.”

“There are a lot of cancer survivors out there. I give you this audience,” Dr. Barry Kaplan, director of hematology and oncology, told an auditorium packed with those who came to listen to and share their stories of survival.

Government-sponsored research funds, Kaplan said, are what drives the basic science for cancer cures. He said that when he was a medical student 49 years ago, he was taught not to use the word “cancer” with his patients. Advances in radiation therapy and surgery have led to techniques that can more effectively target damaged cancer cells and leave more healthy cells unharmed.

New drugs, such as Herceptin, are able to target the genes, or the switch that turns cancer on, Kaplan said. “The future of oncology is … [that] every single patient is going to have to be analyzed in terms of genes and those genes are going to have to be attacked.”

Myra Baird Herce, president of the Flushing Chamber of Commerce, shared her story of surviving colon cancer and hailed the hospital’s staff.

“You don’t really have to go to Manhattan to be treated,” she said. “The level of doctors here are second to none.”

Marie Czarnecki, a Utica, N.Y., resident, said a doctor at another hospital had told her she had five years to live when she was diagnosed with a rare form of cervical cancer. Nori treated her with radiation and told her she was cured.

“That was in 1989,” she said.

“I’ve had a lot of good times and not so good times here in this hospital,” said City Comptroller John Liu, who had volunteered as a candy striper at NYHQ. “In the news nowadays, I’m always afraid what I’m going to read about, from health care under siege to hospitals closing down.”

He said he was grateful as a Flushing resident and a New Yorker to have such a resource.

After the presentation, the hospital served a lunch where members of the NYHQ cancer community mingled and shared their experiences.

Flushing resident Sarah Priestley received radiation therapy from Nori for her breast cancer. She said she has being doing wonderfully on Herceptin.

“I’ve never had a bad reaction to the new medicine,” she said.

“Cancer is not an epidemic. We’re getting better at controlling it,” said Kaplan. “We’ve come a very long way from not telling people they have cancer.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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