The fall of 2002 was supposed to be an exciting time for Janet Pantano. Her second grandson was just born on August 29th - her birthday. Janet's husband was planning his retirement for the following year. She explained, "My family is very important to me, so I was looking forward to having more time together."
One afternoon in December, while flipping the switch on the gas fireplace, Janet injured her right shoulder - an injury that would drastically change her life. Although it was a slight task, Janet fractured her shoulder. An X-ray at her local hospital revealed the fracture was caused by a tumor that was growing on her shoulder. Janet's doctors referred her to one of Philadelphia's city hospitals. After a biopsy, Janet was diagnosed with extramedullary plasmacytoma, which involves a single clump of myeloma cells outside the bone marrow.
"As soon as I heard it was malignant, I knew I had to go to Fox Chase Cancer Center."
"As soon as I heard it was malignant, I knew I had to go to Fox Chase Cancer Center - even though there were a lot of hospitals closer to home," recalled Janet. "Fortunately I was referred to Dr. Mitchell Smith at Fox Chase."
Immediately, Dr. Smith ordered a bone marrow biopsy only to learn that the cancer was not contained to the shoulder as previously thought, but also in the bone marrow. Janet was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which is a cancer of the plasma cell - the part of the immune systems that helps fight infection and disease.
"Dr. Smith spent a lot of time explaining everything, answered all of my questions and made me feel like I was his only patient."
Dr. Mitchell Smith, director of the lymphoma service at Fox Chase, has a special expertise in treating patients with myeloma. "He was wonderful. Dr. Smith spent a lot of time explaining everything, answered all of my questions and made me feel like I was his only patient - even though I'm sure he has hundreds," recalled Janet. Although her initial chemotherapy was successful in fighting the cancer, Dr. Smith advised Janet to consider having a bone marrow transplant after a round of chemotherapy.
Fox Chase partners with Temple University Hospital to offer patients bone marrow transplant at Jeanes Hospital, which sits on the same campus at Fox Chase. Dr. Smith referred Janet to Kenneth F. Mangan, MD, FACP, Director of the Bone Marrow Transplant Program.
"Having the bone marrow transplant was the best decision I ever made."
"At that time I didn't want to even think about going through a transplant, but the side effects of the drugs were taking a toll on my hips, causing osteonecrosis," admitted Janet. However, if she elected not to have the transplant, she would have to continue taking the medicine. In August of 2003, Janet finally decided to proceed with the transplant. "Having the bone marrow transplant was the best decision I ever made."
Like many patients, Janet was nervous to undergo bone marrow transplant because it can be difficult to endure. "Dr. Mangan really put me at ease," shared Janet. "He was so kind and I knew I was in great hands." The transplant was easier than she expected as it ran through an IV that went into a port in her chest. The most challenging part for Janet was recovery. Because her immune system was compromised, she could not be exposed to anyone else's germs.
"For the next 6 months following the procedure, I was mostly confined to my house and had to avoid seeing people, especially in crowds. My husband is terrific. He took care of everything and made sure everything was okay," said Janet. "The hardest part was not being able to see my grandchildren as often as I would have liked. However, I wouldn't have traded doing it for anything. It really improved my quality of life and preserved my health."
"The nurses made me feel confident and comfortable to be under their care."
Janet's transplant was successful and her health slowly began to improve, although a case of the shingles put her back in the hospital temporarily. "The nurses at Fox Chase were wonderful," she recalled. "They even remembered me from my initial visit when I was diagnosed. I couldn't believe it. They made me feel confident and comfortable to be under their care."
In August 2011, Janet marked eight years since the transplant. She is thankful to be alive and well - and grateful to her physicians, Dr. Smith and Dr. Mangan.
"I believed that if anyone knew how to treat myeloma, it would be Fox Chase. I was right!"
"I am so glad I went to Fox Chase. I was willing to travel anywhere for the best treatment. I believed that if anyone knew how to treat myeloma, it would be Fox Chase. I was right!" Janet exclaimed. "And through their affiliation with Temple, I was able to have the bone marrow transplant that saved my life."
Today, Janet treasures every minute she can spend with family and friends, and especially her sons and grandsons. I'm living a much more normal life and am very appreciative of every new day."