Alan Hallman

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Sarcoma Treatment

Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) Patient Stories

Alan Hallman

In December of 2005, a routine physical became anything but for Alan Hallman, a middle school teacher then living in Bechtelsville. At 55, he was in good health, had never smoked or even drank alcohol. Yet his family doctor noticed the presence of blood in a urine sample. Alan hadn't had any abnormal symptoms.

"He told me it might be nothing, just a fluke," recalled the now-retired teacher. "Or there might be something there. We could either do some more tests, starting with a CT scan, or just monitor for a few months to see if it showed up again. I figured, why mess around, let's find out what's going on."

He went for more tests at his local hospital on the Friday before New Year's eve. Told he wouldn't hear anything until after January 1, Alan got a phone call from his doctor the very next day. "I saw his name come up on the caller ID, and I knew it wasn't good news. The tests seemed to indicate a tumor in my stomach."

His doctor recommended going to an oncologist associated with Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Anybody who goes through this process knows that uncertainty can create an emotional rollercoaster for both patients and families. More tests revealed that there wasn't a tumor in Alan's stomach after all. But something was amiss. His doctor recommended going to an oncologist associated with Fox Chase Cancer Center. Alan first went to Dr. Jeffrey A. Stevens, an oncologist based at Pottstown Memorial Hospital, a Fox Chase Cancer Center Partner hospital. Tests revealed that Alan did indeed have cancer, but it wasn't in his stomach. It was pressing against and penetrating the first layer of the stomach lining. He would need surgery at Fox Chase.

Alan consulted with James C. Watson, MD, FACS, a Fox Chase surgeon who specializes in treating patients with gastrointestinal cancers. Dr. Watson and Dr. Stevens agreed that he try a course of chemotherapy with Gleevec®, a drug usually used to treat leukemia. The hope was that the strong drug would shrink the tumor. After 2 months, Alan was unable to work due to extreme fatigue and no real change had taken place. Dr. Watson said it was time for surgery to remove the tumor.

The surgery was a success.

That was on a Thursday. An unexpected opening in Dr. Watson's schedule found Alan in the operating room the following Monday for what was described as a complex procedure likely to take 6 to 8 hours. When his wife and daughter saw Dr. Watson coming towards them after just 2 hours in surgery, they didn't know what to think. "The good news was that the tumor wasn't as invasive as he'd thought," said Alan. Dr. Watson was able to remove the tumor, while leaving his spleen intact and there were no other complications.

Alan agreed to remain on the Gleevec as a precautionary measure. "They told me they didn't really know the long term effects of using Gleevec over time," said Alan, who also shared that Gleevec affects each person differently. He stuck with the program for 4 years.

"Dr. Watson is very sure of himself - exactly the quality I want in the surgeon taking care of me."

In 2010, more than 5 years since his surgery, Alan's health is excellent. Other than his annual check-ups with Dr. Watson, he hopes his cancer is behind him. "My care at Fox Chase was excellent," he said. Alan knows that GIST is an aggressive form of cancer and may recur. But he's confident in the quality of care he received at Fox Chase. "There is always that possibility. But we're staying on top of it," said Alan. "Dr. Watson is very sure of himself - exactly the quality I want in the surgeon taking care of me."