Beyond Medicine: A Team Approach Helps Patient Beat Advanced-Stage Cancer
Maria Nanton (right), pictured here with her mother, Annette Joseph, is grateful to her team of caring physicians at MedStar Harbor Hospital for helping her beat cervical cancer.
Ask Baltimore resident Maria Nanton, 46, about her health care team at MedStar Harbor Hospital and she’ll tell you they’re her angels. “They saved my life,” she said.
For nearly a year, Nanton experienced heavy vaginal bleeding, but she delayed seeing a physician because she didn’t have health insurance. Fortunately, a close friend told her about The Baltimore City Breast and Cervical Cancer Program at MedStar Harbor Hospital. Nanton learned that she qualified for a free screening through the program and made an appointment.
In early 2010, Nanton saw James Patterson, M.D., chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at MedStar Harbor Hospital. He performed a Pap smear, which revealed an abnormality. Next, he did a colposcopy, a procedure that allowed him to look closely at the cervix. The test showed potentially cancerous areas, so Dr. Patterson performed a biopsy to examine the tissues of Nanton’s cervix and arrived at a diagnosis: invasive cervical cancer.
Dr. Patterson referred Nanton to Fouad Abbas, M.D., head of the division of gynecologic oncology at MedStar Harbor Hospital and four-time recipient of Baltimore magazine’s “Top Doc” distinction. “I am constantly in contact with Dr. Abbas and we discussed Ms. Nanton’s test results before she saw him,” Dr. Patterson said.
Putting the Patient First
Nanton and Dr. Abbas quickly bonded. “He has such a soft, caring, loving way about him,” Nanton said. “Plus, he’s funny.”
Perhaps that’s what cemented the relationship from the get-go. “She’s the only patient who ever laughs at my jokes,” Dr. Abbas said.
Nanton had an appointment with Dr. Abbas at least once a month for the next five months. Each visit was a bright spot in her day.
“Dr. Abbas was truly interested in me,” she said. “He always asked about my family and wanted to learn more about Trinidad, where I grew up. He wanted to know about my culture — especially the food. I even gave him a taste of our hot sauce.”
Dr. Abbas notes it was the hottest hot sauce he’d ever tried.
“I always remember that I’m treating a person, not just a disease,” he said. “I want to find out what makes each patient unique and what I can do to make this journey a little more pleasant for them. I always write patients a letter to say thank you when they first come to see me. Although my hand hurts from writing, it’s my way of letting them know they matter to me from the very beginning.”
Nanton points out that she felt like Dr. Abbas was watching over her all along. “I knew I could contact him any time with questions or concerns and he’d get back to me as quickly as he could,” she said. “I would also receive calls from his secretary asking how I was doing. Dr. Abbas is so busy, but he still thought to check up on me and make sure I was okay. And if I ever needed to see him in the office, they’d find a way to fit me into his schedule.”
Curing Cancer is a Team Effort
Nanton’s cancer was too far along to be treated with surgery. Dr. Abbas referred her to his MedStar Harbor colleagues Young Lee, M.D., chief of the division of oncology, for chemotherapy and Jack Hong, M.D., radiation oncologist, for radiation treatments.
Nanton appreciated the seamless continuity of care she received. “I never had to wonder what was going to happen next,” she said. “The physicians told me exactly what I needed to do and where I needed to go, and I just did whatever they asked me to.”
All cervical cancer patients at MedStar Harbor Hospital experience comprehensive care from the same medical team that treated Nanton. “The team meets once a month to discuss each patient’s case and coordinate on each patient’s treatment plan,” Dr. Lee said.
And, since chemotherapy, radiation therapy and gynecologic oncology are all located within the same facility — the HarborView Cancer Center — physicians consistently communicate with one another throughout a patient’s treatment. “We have an open-door policy, and physicians can always reach one another 24-7,” Dr. Hong said.
Nanton received chemotherapy once a week for six weeks and radiation five days per week for eight weeks. “Maria is an extraordinary woman,” Dr. Hong said. “She did extremely well throughout her treatments and a lot of it had to do with how much effort she put toward maintaining a positive attitude.”
Today, Nanton is completely cancer-free, but she still gladly sees Dr. Abbas for checkups. “I feel very lucky that I was treated at MedStar Harbor Hospital,” Nanton said. “I knew the physicians were working together to make sure I was getting the very best treatment, and I put my complete faith in them.”