William L. Jefferson

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Colorectal Cancer Treatment

Sister Mary Joseph's Lymph Node Patient Stories, Small Bowel Cancer Patient Stories

William L. Jefferson

Jeff Jefferson and his grandchildren stand in front of the black Dodge truck he always wanted. His dream became a reality when his wife, Nancy, surprised Jeff with a new truck following cancer treatment.

William Jefferson, or as his friends refer to him as "Jeff," worked as a splicer for Verizon near his South Jersey home. He enjoyed his job, most of which was done outdoors. When Jeff retired in 2001, at the age of 58, he was looking forward to spending much of his leisure time outside, whether it be gardening or swimming with his 9 grandchildren.

In early 2003, Jeff began to experience flu-like symptoms on a daily basis. A couple of hours after each meal, he would vomit. His wife, Nancy, became concerned. "I took Jeff to our local doctor. She ordered lots of tests over the next 3 months, but nothing confirmed a diagnosis. I was getting very frustrated - Jeff had lost 20 pounds during this time."

"Finally, our doctor suggested we go to Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia to rule out cancer. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It turned out to save Jeff's life."

In June, Jeff had his first appointment with Dr. James C. Watson, a surgical oncologist who specializes in gastrointestinal cancers. He examined Jeff on his 60th birthday, which was a Thursday. Dr. Watson knew immediately what was wrong. He called in his nurse and asked her to feel my belly button area where I had a small 'knot' which Dr. Watson labeled as a Sister Mary Joseph's lymph node."

The name originates from an era of surgery nearly a century ago, when a nun who served as an operating room scrub nurse noticed while preparing patients that if they had this type of swelling at the navel, it often meant that tumor cells had spread to that area and thus signified that a very advanced gastrointestinal cancer would be found at the time of operation.

Dr. Watson explained to Jeff that this was quite an unusual way to present with cancer in modern times, given the current advanced medical tools used to evaluate patients. "When I was first seen at Fox Chase, I was having extreme difficultly eating, so Dr. Watson offered to perform surgery the very next day or on Monday," recalled Jeff.

Nancy continued, "We were in shock. We never expected to hear Jeff had cancer, much less such a rare type. In South Jersey we would have waited weeks for surgery. We were so impressed that Dr. Watson was so decisive and offered to perform surgery right away. The attitude of all of the staff was amazing. We knew we were in good hands."

"We were very impressed that Dr. Watson was so decisive and offered to perform surgery right away. We knew we were in good hands."

The attitude of all of the staff was amazing. We knew we were in good hands. The surgery was scheduled for the following Monday."

"I will never forget that Dr. Watson suspected the tumor right away. He told us, 'When I'm finished I may not be able to save you, but I'll make sure you can eat.' He tells you the truth without taking away hope," said Nancy.

After the surgery, Jeff and Nancy expected Dr. Watson to report he had Stage I cancer since it had just been diagnosed. They were wrong. At operation, Dr. Watson confirmed his suspicion that an unsuspected small bowel cancer had spread tumor cells to the Sister Mary Joseph's lymph node, but he also discovered and removed 4 separate sites of cancer - 1 in the lymph node, 1 in the colon and 2 in the small intestine. He removed an 18" piece of the small intestine which was the section between the tumors.

"He explained to our son, who is also a physician, that staging is based on the number of tumor sites," recalled Nancy. "I'll never forget. He told me that Jeff had Stage IV cancer in the small bowel. Generally, patients with stage IV aren't usually here in 5 years. While Jeff was in post-op, I sat and cried. It was just awful."

While all of that sounded pretty bad, the good news was that all cancer sites had been completely removed. "Dr. Watson took it all out," said Jeff, who began an aggressive course of chemotherapy with an experimental drug that had been approved just months before.

"We were so in love with everyone at Fox Chase. I've never been any place like it."

"Sometimes it was hard to be there because of the things you see - but you know you're in the best place," explained Nancy. "The infusion room nurses are amazing. They watch patients in pain every day and the first thing they say to you is 'Do you have any pain?' They are extremely thoughtful. Although I don't have cancer myself, I now go to Fox Chase for all of my annual screenings including colonoscopy and mammograms."

Nancy continued, "Marion, the cashier in the cafeteria, is amazing. Even though she's not involved in patient care, she always remembered us and made us laugh with her jokes. That put a smile on our faces when we really needed one."

Jeff recently hit the 5-year mark. He continues to be monitored by Dr. Watson. "I feel so fortunate to have been under Dr. Watson's care. If we had waited just one more month, or even been operated on elsewhere, I might not have been given a chance for cure and the cancer could have spread."

"Nancy believes she would have been a widow today if it were not for the care I received at Fox Chase."

The Jeffersons are finally enjoying retirement. They travel to see friends and family, which are very important to them. "When I was going through treatment, one of our friends suggested I make big and little goals. Some of my little goals were to be with my kids during dinner or to sit at the pool. My big goal was to get the Dodge truck I've dreamt about for years. I'm happy to report it's sitting in my driveway today!"