This certainly has been one of those years for Bob and Anne Schulman.
As we approach Thanksgiving, the Lawrence couple are more than thankful that Bob is alive, and that he and Anne have had time together — to take a cruise, to be with family and friends and to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. To live his life.
The Schulmans believe it was the willingness of an oncologist at Lawrence Memorial Hospital that turned 2017 into the year that Bob got another chance at life.
Last November, Bob was fighting a cough. He was tired. Probably bronchitis, the Schulmans thought. Right time of year. He went to a local pharmacy for a quick exam and walked out with antibiotics.
But 10 days or so later, with the cough lingering and Bob not feeling better, the Schulmans opted for a visit to PromptCare, where staff took a chest X-ray and a blood sample for testing.
“The doctor came in and said, ‘I’ve called the ER. Here are your records. You’re going over to Lawrence Memorial now,’” Anne recalls. “I remember saying: ‘Can I stop by home?’ He said: ‘I wouldn’t.’”
They were told Bob’s bone marrow was compromised. He needed blood transfusions.
“I didn’t know I was so sick,” says Bob, a lawyer and a psychologist who was working 30 hours a week in Topeka before this episode.
In their initial reading of Bob’s bone marrow, LMH oncologists saw both acute myelogenous leukemia and lymphoma cells, which is quite a diagnosis. Not one cancer but two. So after he received four units of blood, Bob was rolled into an ambulance, heading to a Kansas City-area hospital, where the couple hoped he could participate in a clinical trial.
But his stay there was not what the Schulmans expected. He didn’t qualify for a trial. They weren’t impressed with his care. And they certainly were disappointed in the news they received.
Anne, a former public school teacher, remembers what the physician told her husband: “You have two months to live, and I’ve made an appointment with an oncologist in Lawrence for palliative care for you.”
And she remembers thinking, “He’s older. He’s been written off.”
Bob, who was less than two months from his 80th birthday, believes that’s exactly what happened. He was too old for a bone marrow transplant, and the treatment for leukemia is grueling, the Kansas City physician warned. They came home to Lawrence, discouraged.
Even though the couple decided they would go to the palliative-care appointment at LMH Oncology Center, they wanted more. They weren’t interested in the grueling treatment described in Kansas City, but they wanted more than two months.
They talked extensively with Bob’s daughter, who is a rheumatologist in San Diego. She asked an oncologist colleague to review her father’s medical records. She flew to Kansas for that palliative-care appointment with Dr. Jodi Palmer of the LMH Oncology Center.
“His case is like one in a billion,” Palmer says. “It’s incredibly rare to have these two really aggressive diseases together.”
She found treatment options for each disease, checking with pharmacists to ensure the mix of drugs was safe. She certainly had very little to go on. Her research turned up just two documented cases of patients with both leukemia and lymphoma.
She remembers telling the Schulmans, “This is a long shot. There’s no telling about the side effects.”
Nearly a year after Bob Schulman was told he would be dead in two months, both diseases are in remission, which Palmer describes as “beyond expectations.”
Before he met with Palmer, Bob had decided he didn’t want to travel to a large cancer center for care.
“It seems to be too tiring, too much of a hassle,” he said. “I wanted to be home. I was more convinced after I met Dr. Palmer that it was the right decision. There was no reason to go anywhere.”
The Schulmans and their daughter were impressed, and they continue to be impressed.
“Dr. Palmer was totally honest and told us there is no guaranteeing anything,” Bob said.
He began the treatment plan soon after the first of the year.
“When I first started, I was in a wheelchair. I was tired. I looked horrible,” Bob said. But his body has tolerated the drugs. “I don’t get nauseated. I eat regularly. I don’t get headaches. I’ve been doing pretty well.”
He notes just one side effect. He’s a bit unsteady at times, when standing, when walking. “But I walked the dog this morning,” Bob said.
Bob’s oncologist has placed no restrictions on his diet.
“She tells me I can drink and eat — and I do,” he says.
The couple are overjoyed by the care they have received at LMH, and what Bob’s treatment has allowed them to do during 2017. They’ve taken a weeklong cruise on the Columbia River and traveled to Chicago for a niece’s bat mitzvah. And they plan a trip to Cuba and one to Arizona.
When friends express surprise that Bob’s being treated in Lawrence, the Schulmans tell them about LMH Oncology.
“We could have gone to Sloan-Kettering, to M.D. Anderson,” Bob says. “We made up our mind about that, and this was a very, very good decision. I liked Dr. Palmer because she was so straightforward about everything. She is terrific, and everybody there is. These folks have been so supportive, so good, so on top of everything. They talk to you. They call you back. They are accessible. You don’t see that in a lot of places.”
— Caroline Trowbridge is marketing communications manager for Lawrence Memorial Hospital. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.