NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

December 24, 2012

A gift like no other

Cancer patient credits Port medical team for a gift of life after treatment

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT — Holiday presents come in every category, shape and style, but one-time cancer patient Frank Pelosi is happy to accept a very basic gift this Christmas: good health.

Last fall, the 70-year-old Pelosi was treated for cancer in his mouth and neck through Anna Jaques Hospital.

Pelosi, who recently received a clean bill of health from his doctors, feels he is one fortunate man this holiday season.

“Health, that is my gift,” said Pelosi, with a smile. “There were times I didn’t know what shape I would be in or what kind of future I had. This is a great holiday season for me.”

Pelosi, who lives in Sandown, N.H., was a tool-and-die maker who retired about a decade ago from Lucent Technologies. Last June, he had trouble swallowing. After consulting his local doctor, he was referred to medical professionals at Anna Jaques.

Among members of a team created to assist him were Dr. Daryl Colden, Dr. Catherine Iasiello and Dr. Claire Fung.

“It was what (actor) Michael Douglas had,” Pelosi said. “I wanted to get started on treatment right away —even yesterday.”

Fung, who came to work closely with Pelosi, said, “He presented a serious condition, stage 4 cancer. It was located at the base of the tongue, and surgery was not an option.

“We explained to him what was happening, and he was a good patient. He had a positive attitude, and was ready to undergo treatment.”

In August, Pelosi began a regimen of radiation and chemotherapy. His lifestyle changed considerably.

“I stopped going to my grandkids’ games and I didn’t go out very much at all,” he said. “My immune system was way down, and I couldn’t risk getting a cold or catching something.

“Dr. Fung explained the situation, and I was ready to follow. She weighs about 90 pounds, but she has 5,000 pounds of knowledge.”

Pelosi lost his sense of taste; it hurt to swallow. During treatment, he shed about 35 pounds.

He kept most of his hair, but his face and neck broke out in a rash. Still, he kept returning to Newburyport for treatment and consultation.

“At about four or five weeks into treatment, you start getting depressed,” Pelosi said. “You don’t know what the future holds or what you might be doing.

“The team told me this would happen. Still, there were some low moments.”

As part of a plan to stay positive, Pelosi envisioned a summer vacation. “I thought I would make reservations for bike week (in New Hampshire); I ride (a motorcycle), and I thought this would be something to look forward to.”

As intense as his episode was, the inner life of Pelosi had been rocked by several other illnesses close to him.

His first wife, Janice, had been a cancer patient, but did not survive.

His second wife, Linda, has also battled cancer in recent years.

Linda has prevailed, and they live together on eight wooded acres marked by pine trees, bird feeders and lots of quiet.

Pelosi’s treatments in Newburyport went well, and his cancer began shrinking. Medical professionals say Pelosi might have been aided by a new drug called Erbitux.

“I was pleased to see the results, and I do feel this new medication helped him with this condition,” Fung said.

Pelosi completed his regimen of radiation and chemotherapy, and doctors declared his treatments were over. He was free to return to his normal activity.

Eradicating the cancer was the optimum outcome for all involved.

“I get satisfaction when we have a success like that of Frank,” Fung said. “It was a case where we were able to diagnose a condition, spend time explaining it to him and then begin a treatment process.

“One of my goals as a doctor is to share my knowledge so patients have a clear understanding of the situation, and can make choices on what to do about it.”

As Pelosi looks back on recent events, he is appreciative of gifts that do not come with wrapping and in boxes.

“My medical team did a great job,” Pelosi said. “I am very thankful to them and this Christmas and I will be spending the holidays with family and seeing friends.

“Now I feel I will see my grandkids graduate and get married. The future ahead is so much brighter.”