‘Living Life to the Fullest’ Thanks to Expert Care and a Powerful Patient-Physician Bond
Carol Currens enjoys caring for her youngest grandson, Jesse.
Pasadena resident Carol Currens, 62, spends most days taking care of her 2-year-old grandson, Jesse. Her other three grandsons — Mason, 10, Matthew, 12, and Mikey, 13 — enjoy spending time with their grandparents when visiting from Florida. And Currens and her husband, Frank, try to get out on their 40-foot powerboat as often as the weather allows.
Currens depends on her health and energy to maintain an active life. Unfortunately, two years ago, cancer threatened to rob her of both.
Finding the Right Physician
In October 2009, Currens started feeling nauseous almost every day. Before an already-scheduled colonoscopy, she told her physician about her recent symptoms. Her physician decided to also perform an endoscopy (sending a lighted, flexible tube down the esophagus) so he could look for any issues inside her upper digestive tract, including her stomach. During the procedure, her physician performed a biopsy to examine a sample of tissue inside her stomach. The biopsy revealed that Currens had MALT lymphoma, a rare type of cancer that affects a certain kind of white blood cell inside the stomach.
Currens’ daughter happens to work for Ernest Tsao, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Harbor Hospital, and she urged her mom to meet with him. Dr. Tsao is so highly regarded that his caring attitude has earned him Harbor’s 2011 PhysicianSPIRIT Award, which recognizes physicians who offer exceptional service and consistently go above and beyond for patients and colleagues.
“Becoming Dr. Tsao’s patient turned out to be the best choice I made in my care,” Currens said. “From my very first appointment with Dr. Tsao, I thought he was a wonderful physician. The more I got to know him, the more I saw that he’s also a wonderful person. I never feel rushed. He lets me ask as many questions as I want and answers every single one of them. And if you listen really carefully, every once in awhile he cracks a little joke.”
Dr. Tsao appreciated Currens’ curiosity about her disease. “She absorbed all of the information I gave her, and I could tell she had complete faith in what I prescribed for her condition,” he said.
Stopping Cancer in Its Tracks
MALT lymphoma is typically caused by a bacterial infection. If found in an early stage, treating it with an antibiotic can cause the cancer to go into remission. However, for Currens, this wasn’t the case.
When an endoscopy in October 2010 revealed that the number of cancer cells had increased, Dr. Tsao referred Currens to David Van Echo, M.D., an oncologist and director of the HarborView Cancer Center, for chemotherapy. Dr. Van Echo prescribed one chemotherapy treatment per week for four weeks.
“That did the trick,” Dr. Tsao said. “The last time I performed a biopsy, she was disease free. I couldn’t be happier about it.” Dr. Tsao continues to perform the endoscopy and biopsy procedure every six months to ensure that the cancer is still in remission and hopes to scale back the surveillance to once a year.
A Family Affair
Dr. Tsao’s compassionate care didn’t end with Currens’ cancer treatment. When her father was admitted to Harbor Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) this year, Dr. Tsao visited every single day.
Dr. Tsao never thought twice about his daily trips to the ICU. “I hoped that if I could offer some sympathy and guidance, perhaps I could help get her family through that hardship.”
That’s exactly what he did, Currens said. “I was so thankful that he took the time to visit. It was so reassuring for me to see a familiar face and to have Dr. Tsao’s support during such a difficult time.”
Of course, Currens also is grateful for his expertise in treating her cancer. “I want to live my life to the fullest and, because of Dr. Tsao, now I can.”