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Celebrating Survivorship at Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute

The messages on the wall inside Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute show why surviving cancer is something to celebrate.

“Today I’m celebrating 12 years breast cancer free and five years leukemia free.”

“Two years and counting.”

“Just starting my fight, I will win.”

On Wednesday, June 4, the staff and patients of the Cancer Institute joined in the celebration of the 27th Annual National Cancer Survivors Day, honoring more than 14,000,000 cancer survivors in the United States.

cancersurvivorsday

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Sandy Spoljaric, a retired infusion nurse, was one of the volunteers on hand to greet patients. She worked for Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center for more than 23 years and for her the event was a homecoming. She was happy to see some of the patients she’s helped over the years. (more…)

June 11, 2014 at 12:48 pm Leave a comment

Disaster simulation tests trauma training of emergency medicine residents

Emergency medicine is all about response. When it comes to disasters like bombings and shootings, time and resources are limited, but medical personnel need to work with what they have to control the situation and ensure everyone’s safety.

Resident physicians from the Department of Emergency Medicine at Penn State Hershey Medical Center recently participated in a drill that simulated one such disaster. The scenario involved a bombing at a marathon where several victims, who were played by actors, required immediate medical attention. The scene was tense as the residents hurried to the victims and began prioritizing them based on the severity of their injuries. Radios blared and lights flared to add to the commotion.

 

Disaster training - resident treats an actor playing a wounded soldier.

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May 28, 2014 at 9:09 am Leave a comment

Focused on People and Problem-Solving: Penn State Hershey’s new PA Program

Andrey Frolov left a job at the University of Kansas Cancer Center and moved halfway across the country to be part of Penn State Hershey’s new graduate-level physician assistant program.

The 38-year-old Russian scientist spent much of his career working in translational cancer research and helped develop a breakthrough drug for treatment of leukemia. While working closely with physicians as part of the clinical trials process for the drug, he realized he wanted to return to patient care.

“I never knew what a physician assistant was or what they were capable of doing before,” he says. “At my age, PA school provides nice flexibility to start practicing in a relatively short period of time.”

Physician assistants are healthcare professionals who are licensed to practice medicine as part of a team approach to healthcare, under the direction of a physician. The scope of what they can do is limited only by the doctor they practice with. Unlike nurse practitioners, who are trained in the nursing model and often specialize, physician assistants are intentionally trained to be medical generalists, extending the care of a physician by spending more time interviewing and counseling patients.

“If you’re okay working as part of a team, not being the highest in command and not having the final say, you have a lot of autonomy,” says Kyle Landis, a 27-year-old former professional baseball player for the Cleveland Indians, who decided to pursue a career as a physician assistant after an injury ended his athletic career.

The PA profession is growing rapidly as demand and eligibility for care increase, while the number of primary care physicians in practice has not. “They are doing some of the things the physicians don’t really have the time to do because they are pulled in so many directions,” says Christine Bruce, director of the new Physician Assistant Program at Penn State College of Medicine. (more…)

May 19, 2014 at 7:30 am 1 comment

Cheers, hugs, and tears at 2014 Match Day

On Friday, March 21, fourth-year medical students across the country discovered where they will spend their residencies in an annual tradition known as Match Day. For more than 120 students at Penn State College of Medicine, their Match Day event included a countdown to the moment when they ripped open the envelopes that hold their futures – a moment marked by cheers, hugs and tears. In all, 100 percent of the college’s senior medical student residency applicants matched to one of the residency programs to which they had applied. Of the 133 graduates, 26 of them will remain at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center for residency.

March 24, 2014 at 7:30 am Leave a comment

THON support for pediatric research is even more than a dream come true

Dr. Valerie Brown, associate professor of pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine, thought THON was too good to be true when she came to Hershey in late 2013.

“I just didn’t believe that this support existed,” she says. “It was a dream come true, but even more.”

THON, or the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, is an annual fundraising event that supports the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. The Four Diamonds Fund supports the families of children with cancer Children’s Hospital and pediatric cancer research at the College of Medicine. The 2014 THON, held this past weekend in State College, raised a record $13,343,517.33 for the Four Diamonds Fund.

Portrait of Valerie Brown, M.D., Ph.D.

Valerie Brown, M.D., Ph.D., clinical director of the Experimental Therapeutics Program at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital

With the help of THON and the Four Diamonds Fund, Dr. Brown is growing a cutting-edge experimental therapeutics program for pediatric patients with cancer and has brought the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium to Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. A consortium is a collaboration of physicians and scientists with different areas of expertise working together around a specific disease or type of disease. In a translational research approach, scientists and others work across their fields of study to move discoveries made in the laboratory to use in patients, and take what they learn with patient populations back to the lab for further study.

One of the goals of the consortium is to improve the outcomes for children with cancer by quickly determining a specialized treatment.

“A lot of treatment for patients with a disease that has come back or mutated is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic after it hits the iceberg,” says Dr. Brown. “You can’t avoid the iceberg, and so you need to have better lifeboats. Early phase clinical trials help us to build a better lifeboat.” (more…)

February 24, 2014 at 8:18 am Leave a comment

Researcher calls THON an inspiration for his work

Hong-Gang Wang, Ph.D., director of the molecular oncology program at Penn State College of Medicine, has the same energy and devotion as THON participants about finding the cure for pediatric cancer.

“THON is not simply a fundraising event, it generates inspiration,” he says.

The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, or THON, is an annual fundraising event that supports the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. The Four Diamonds Fund supports families of children with cancer at the Children’s Hospital and pediatric cancer research at the College of Medicine.

Hong-Gang Wang, Ph.D., Four Diamonds Fund-supported molecular oncology researcher at Penn State College of Medicine

Hong-Gang Wang, Ph.D., Four Diamonds Fund-supported molecular oncology researcher at Penn State College of Medicine

Wang has been studying pediatric cancer since he arrived at the College of Medicine in 2008. As a father, he understands what families with sick children endure. As a researcher, he always looks towards the future. His research focuses on autophagy, a process where the cancer cells eat themselves, resulting in a recycling process.

“Autophagy helps tumor cells survive the assaults of treatment,” Wang says. Cancer treatment causes stress to the cancer cells, which is supposed to kill them. Through autophagy, cancer cells are relieved from this stress and recycle toxic materials for survival.

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February 21, 2014 at 10:36 am Leave a comment

Penn State Hershey promotes healthy living at 2014 Farm Show

Across from stands selling sausages and strudel, nurses and other staff from Penn State Hershey check blood pressure, calculate Body Mass Indexes (BMI), and discuss smoking, physical activity nutritional knowledge.

Along with staff from CBS 21, they encourage visitors at the 2014 Pennsylvania Farm Show to take a pledge against texting while driving, and chat with them about the benefits of regular exercise as they walk on a treadmill.

On the other side of the Main Exposition Hall, more Penn State Hershey nurses administer free flu shots at the Pennsylvania Department of Health booth. An annual seasonal flu vaccine is important to reduce the chances that one will get seasonal flu and spread it to others. When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through the community.

This is the third year that Penn State Hershey has been part of the annual Farm Show, and the second year it has helped give flu shots at the Department of Health booth.

Where to find us: 

Visit the Penn State Hershey booth (#5010) in the corner of the Main Exposition Hall next to the Pennsylvania Marketplace between 1 and 7 p.m. through Friday, January 10, and from 9 a.m. until noon Saturday, January 11.

Get a free flu shot between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day of the Farm Show at the PA Department of Health booth located behind the carousel in the Main Exposition Hall. (more…)

January 9, 2014 at 9:17 am 1 comment

Medical student asks the right questions and finishes second on recent episode of Jeopardy!

Each of the past three or four years, second-year medical student Johnna Mahoney took a timed, 50-question online qualification test to see if she could advance toward becoming a contestant on Jeopardy!, the popular TV quiz show she grew up watching.

In April of this year, the Penn State College of Medicine student finally got an e-mail inviting her to travel to New York City for an in-person audition – an honor given to only about 2,500 people annually. About 400 people appear on the game show each year.

“I always thought it was really cool – all the smartest people were on Jeopardy!” she said.

Mahoney appeared on an episode of the show that aired in November, taking second-place and winning $2,000. To get there, she would go from a hope in Hershey to the audition in New York and then a taping in Los Angeles, finishing her Jeopardy! journey back home with family and friends in Lancaster when the episode finally aired and she could talk about the experience. (more…)

December 10, 2013 at 3:42 pm 1 comment

Kidney recipient gives thanks for anonymous donor and the gift of a second chance

On July 23, Melissa Masse celebrated her 34th birthday in the operating room of Penn State Hershey, watching Dr. Riaz Shah hold up a kidney while the medical team sang “Happy Birthday.”

Earlier that morning, doctors had harvested a kidney from her husband, Chris, and sent it to a major metropolitan area where it would be given to someone as unknown to the Masses as the donor whose organ became a birthday present for Melissa.

Melissa and Chris Masse holding flowers between them where their scars forever bind them as recipient and donor.

Melissa and Chris Masse hold flowers between them to mark the scars that forever bind them as recipient and donor in a chain that gave Melissa and three others a second chance at life with a healthy kidney.

The surgeries were just two links in a complex transplant chain that allowed four people to receive healthy kidneys despite not having compatible live donors. Known as a “kidney swap,” Penn State Hershey offers the program as an alternative to dialysis and years of waiting for a deceased donor organ.

Melissa had been diagnosed with diabetes at age 11, but it wasn’t until stomach trouble and vomiting sent her to an emergency department in August 2012 and doctors noted her poor kidney function that she was sent to a specialist. By the end of the year, the South Williamsport woman was added to the list of people waiting for a healthy kidney.

Because the average person waits more than six years for a kidney, and because the mortality rate for those on dialysis is 50 percent after five years, Melissa’s husband offered to be a live donor. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a match. Nor was her boss. Or her best friend.

“I was devastated,” Chris said. He knew his wife was hoping for a live donor so there would be less chance her body would reject the new kidney. So he told transplant coordinator Vicky Reilly that he would donate his kidney to someone he had never met so that his wife could receive a healthy kidney from someone she had never met. (more…)

November 26, 2013 at 8:54 am 1 comment

Making inpatient cancer care better for patients and caregivers

Kurt Holtzer never had a problem racing up multiple flights of stairs to respond to code calls for his job at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. But when he couldn’t climb a single flight without doubling over to catch his breath in May 2012, he knew something was wrong.

After an initial diagnosis of asthma, and a battery of tests that lasted several weeks, he was diagnosed with myelogenous leukemia and myelofibrosis, as well as a genetic mutation putting him in a high-risk category for survival. Without treatment, doctors gave him three months to live.

“I had recently lost my mother to lung cancer,” he says. “Having seen how my mother dealt with the chemo regimen, I didn’t want to go through that.” Because of his wife, Julie, and two children, he decided to do it: “I wasn’t ready to let go of her and the kids.”

So, on Memorial Day of last year, the life he had known ceased to exist. He fought fear, worry, and trepidation during nine rounds of chemotherapy, nine bone marrow biopsies and a stem cell transplant.

Holtzer’s cancer went into remission this spring, and he is back at work as a supervisor for the medical center’s biomedical team.

Each Friday, he takes his lunch break at 11 a.m. so he can take part in a weekly music and physical therapy program in the new inpatient adult cancer unit on the seventh floor. He shares his story, talks with others, and assures them he does understand what they are going through. (more…)

November 20, 2013 at 1:13 pm 1 comment

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