“I check each of my patients’ histories to make sure they’re up-to-date on their latest screenings and appointments, even if it’s not necessarily related to what I’m seeing them for,” Dr. Sapp says. “It’s just an important part of good, overall healthcare.”
That colonoscopy turned out to be a lifesaver: It found a small carcinoid, which is a rare, slow-growing tumor.
Dr. Gregory Salzman, Sharon’s treating gastroenterologist at St. Elizabeth, was able to remove most of the tumor. But, in December, her tumor markers came back high. Tumor markers measure certain substances in the body and can help diagnose the presence of cancer. Sharon’s results indicated that there were still cancerous cells left after the surgery.
Sharon admits she was nervous, anxious and scared when she got those test results back. She wasn’t quite sure where to turn, but she did know she could call Dr. Sapp, who – even though she wasn’t treating her at the time – would be able to provide some guidance.
“I called Dr. Sapp over Christmas break, and she was on vacation,” Sharon says. “But the next day, the nurse practitioner called me back and said that Dr. Sapp wanted me to go see Dr. Lowell Anthony, at the UK Markey Cancer Center.”
Dr. Sapp had called in while out of the office to check on her patients – something she admits she often does.
“I always think about my patients every night when I go home and even on vacation,” Dr. Sapp says. “There’s a lot of stress and anxiety because the thought of cancer is scary. I always try to follow up and alleviate any anxiety patients may have about a diagnosis or possible diagnosis.
“I could sense that Sharon was somewhat anxious when I called in,” she continues. “Our team of specialists at St. Elizabeth are very comfortable treating these types of cancers, but in this case, I think our relationship with the Markey Cancer Center allowed us to offer even more reassurance to this worried patient and her family when they needed it most.”
That referral was possible because St. Elizabeth Healthcare is part of the UK Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network, which provides access to specialty and subspecialty cancer care, including cancer programs and advanced technology, while allowing patients to stay closer to home for most treatments. The UK Markey Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in the state, allowing patients to have access to the latest clinical trials.
“This relationship centers on the patient,” says Dr. Anthony. “By connecting physicians and care teams at St. Elizabeth with those at the Markey Cancer Center, everyone benefits as we’ll become part of a greater family.
“I certainly look forward to continuing to work with Dr. Sapp and other St. Elizabeth physicians to provide the very best medical care in the country for all our patients,” he continues. “Ms. Braunwart clearly benefitted by taking advantage of our expertise in neuroendocrine tumors and lowered her anxiety.”
“They call my cancer a zebra,” Sharon says. “It looks like other cancers, sounds like other cancers, but it has stripes. That makes treating it a little more complicated. The other option for me was being treated out of state, and I certainly didn’t want to be away from home for months at a time while I was getting treatment.”
“This affiliation is a strong resource that a physician can leverage to maximize patient outcomes,” Dr. Sapp states. “It will help expand research opportunities at both institutions, which will only improve care available.”
Sharon took Dr. Sapp’s advice and scheduled an appointment to see Dr. Anthony within a few weeks. She was quickly able to take advantage of the expertise and state-of-the-art equipment at the UK Markey Cancer Center.
“I felt kind of panicky when my tumor markers came back high,” Sharon admits. “I needed a plan. This is the same kind of tumor that Steve Jobs had. It goes mid-gut to pancreatic or liver. Dr. Anthony made me feel good. He said to me, ‘If anything comes back positive, I’ll take care of you.’
“That reassurance was such a gift,” she continues. “I trust him. I trust everyone at Markey. You see a multi-disciplinary team, and they just take care of everything for you, which really helps take away some of the stress of a diagnosis like this.”
“This affiliation is going to be able to help so many people,” she continues. “They will get access to the best possible care they need for these specialized cancers. I’m where I need to be thanks to this collaboration.”
Learn more about the affiliation between St. Elizabeth and UK Markey Cancer Center Affiliate Network.