We are a Volunteer Office for Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts.
When patients from Dana Farber are getting ready for stem cell or bone marrow transplants, it is critical that there are no active infections in their body. This includes their mouth. All of these people are out of work, never knowing if they will ever get back to work or even survive. There are Dana Farber patients who cannot afford the needed dental care prior to their transplant. We are lucky enough to be able to help them. We provide needed treatment to eliminate any infections that could cause the transplant to fail. Possible treatments are root canals, treatment for gum disease, cavities, extracted hopeless teeth, detect dead teeth that are asymptomatic and cure them and so on.
Read on to hear our family and practice story.
Who has not had their friends and family affected by some form of cancer?
There are extremely few people whose friends and family had not been affected by some form of cancer. I can tell you by personal experience, it has affected our family. In 2006, our 19 year old son, Michael or Mookie as everyone calls him, was diagnosed with A.L.L. That's Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Unless one of your children has been afflicted by some horrible disease or disaster, it is hard to imagine how it feels. I can't even properly describe it. I can tell you that like many diseases, not only does the person who was diagnosed with the disease get sick, but every single person in the family is scarred and permanently changed. A day doesn't go by where my wife Joanne and I don't think about it. Michael and all of us were some of the lucky ones. Michael was cured and in remission. He was able to return to Denver University and complete the last three years of his undergraduate business studies. While doing fabulous in his studies, he followed his passion of skiing and tackled all mountains in his way. Michael conquered Vaile, A Basin, Aspen and many more mountains.
Our hearts go out to any families that lost loved ones. Sometimes at Dana Farber, in the middle of the night, you would hear the screams of parents who had just lost a child to cancer. I can close my eyes and hear the screams and hear the sounds of parents running down the halls. The nurses, Doctors and entire staff at Dana Farber are angels!
Stem cell and bone marrow transplants are tools the oncologists use to create healthy blood. If the patient afflicted with leukemia has a sibling that is a good match, then that is preferable to using a bone marrow bank. Bone marrow from a bone bank will never be as close a match as a sibling. Michael's sisters were not matches. Fortunately the doctors at Dana Farber where able to treat Michael's leukemia without a bone marrow or stem cell transplants. When Michael was first admitted to Dana Farber, there were many hours where I would wander the hospital. I ran across a dental clinic in Brigham and Women's Hospital, which is connected and affiliated with Dana Farber. I figured I was going to be spending a lot of time here so I went in to see if I could volunteer my services as a dentist. Of course there answer was no because I was not on staff. I was persistent and kept asking and met the director of the dental clinic. He offered me the opportunity to become a Volunteer Off Site Dental Office For Dana Farber. I instantly said yes.
When patients are about to undergo stem cell or bone marrow transplants, it is essential they have no active infections in any part of their body. Those infections include their mouths. I was told that 80% of all stem cell/bone marrow transplants fail because of undetected or untreated dental infections. I found that number astounding. Many of the patients who are being treated for all kinds of cancer cannot afford the dental care it takes to diagnose and treat dental infections that is so critical to the possibility of them surviving these deadly diseases.
These same people, who have undergone tremendous amounts of pain while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, now find out they have to go to a dentist and possibly have invasive dental work. All have been out of work. All don't know if they will ever go back to work or even live. It is a very small part that we are able to give back by helping these people. I say it's a small part but it essential. When you see the caring and giving the nurses and doctors give to their patient's at Dana Farber, it's an honor and a privilege to be any part of it. I can tell you from our experiences that these cancer patients come to us and show us how brave and grateful people can be. Every single one of the Dana Farber patients referred to us for screening and care, exude hope, bravery, and thankfulness and gratitude for all their caregivers. Not one of them complained about anything. Every time when they leave our office, we feel like they helped us. We cry with them and pray with them. Many of them continue to come see us for years after they have been cured. They are some that don't survive and even though we may have known them for months, it is painful.
I remember one woman in particular. She was being treated for Leukemia. She was born in
the Philippines and didn't speak any English. She would bring 5-7 family members when she came for dental treatment. One spoke some English and would translate for all of us. I remember they would bring me small gifts made by hand in their hometown in the Philippines.
They would bake traditions cookies for me to eat. They came in one day just to share with us that their Mother had passed.
I remember one man who was referred who was being treated for a cancerous tumor, which was compressing his spine. The pressure from the tumor created severe constant pain. He was unable to walk because of the pressure. His wife would accompany him and drive all the way from Lunenburg Massachusetts. We would have to pick him up from his wheel chair and place him into the dental chair. He needed more dental work than any other patient we have seen to date. He needed many visits for treatment of gum disease (Periodontitis), which is a chronic infection of the gums and supporting bone, which causes bacteria to travel into one's blood stream on a daily basis. Many root canals were needed because of infections caused by untreated severe decay. Many teeth needed to be surgically extracted because of infections. For any healthy person, these dental procedures, while they may be nearly physically painless, they can be exhausting. The couple had to travel over 2 hours each way many times over a two-month period. Neither one ever complained once. They only expressed thankfulness. I am thrilled to tell you that today he is not in a wheel chair. He drives himself the 2 hours each way and practically dances in. He looks so healthy and is so happy it is hard to believe it's the same person. You can imagine how good we feel when we greet him.
We are ever grateful to Dana Farber, their nurses, doctors and entire support team for saving our son's life and therefore saving our lives. We are ever grateful to help any patient referred to us for dental care. We are ever grateful to the patients from Dana Farber for allowing us in their lives and making us better people because of it I started this by asking you whose family and friends have not been affected by cancer. I ran across this chart and found it staggering.
In 2008, just in the United States, childhood cancer (age 0-19), affected 353,000. The number of all invasive cancer sites was 11,958,000. That's eleven million nine hundred and fifty eight thousand. The numbers are staggering! The numbers on the chart come from the US National Cancer Institute's Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) database for the year 2008, the most recent year for which incidence data are available. These estimates are based on a sampling of the US population. Numbers may not add up because they have been rounded to the nearest 1,000.
Estimated cancer prevalence in the United States as of January 1, 2008
Volunteer Office for Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts, GA
Howlader N, Noone AM, Krapcho M, et al (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2008, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD, based on November 2010 SEER data submission, posted to the SEER Web site, 2011 accessed at http://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2008/
on October 14, 2011.
Now back to our family story
When Michael was diagnosed with Leukemia, we all wanted to do what we could. Michael's sister Meg was a freshman in Norwell High School. Here it was going to be her time. All of Joanne's and my focus was going to be on Meg's high school experiences and years. Michael's oldest sister Katie was in Manhattan working as an analyst. Michael was supposed to be away at college for four years. It was Meg's turn to get all the attention of her Mom and Dad. Meg may have made the biggest sacrifice of us all. We tried to spend as much time with Meg as possible but the disease never leaves your mind. I found it physically and emotionally impossible to stay in the high school for any period of time without breaking down. Meg was 16 years old and found out how a family members disease affects everyone in the family. Meg was
able to accompany her Mom Joanne and her sister Katie to Arizona for a Marathon to raise money for the Leukemia society. That was a huge support for Joanne and Katie. Of course Michael and I couldn't go. We had to stay home for Michael's treatments. We were able to follow Katie on the computer and tract her progress. When Katie crossed the finish line, we were all on the phones celebrating. Michael's sister Katie was in Manhattan New York during
Michael's treatment. She would travel home as much as she could. Katie had to find a way to help more. Here are some of the things she accomplished.
How to make donations to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute?
- Finished full marathon in Arizona. She was the third highest fund raiser of all participants. She emailed all her high school friends and Boston College friends and the response was amazing.
- Finished full marathon in San Francisco. All those hills were insane but she finished. This time Michael and I could travel with Joanne, Meg and Katie because Mike was healthy enough to go.
- Helped organize and fund raise for Leukemia Society at an evening at the Port in Manhattan. Again Michael and all of us could attend. Even my Mom went with us.
- Came up with the idea that at these fund raisers, there were people available to take DNA swabs of any one attending the fund raiser to enter themselves as candidates to be bone marrow or stem cell donors in the future. All it takes is one quick painless swab with a Q-tip in the mouth and you've put your name on the list. What an idea. An idea that I am sure has saved lives. Katie had never run more than a mile in her entire life prior to training for these Marathons. She contacted Team in Training for help. The Team in Training group along with the New York Marathon Running Club responsible for the training and guidance Katie needed. Katie provided the commitment. So if you were wondering why we have on "I Love New York" T-shirts on, now you know why.
The Jimmy Fund is one great way! 1-800-52-Jimmy (54669)
A gift to the Jimmy Fund provides hope to adults and children with cancer worldwide. Your support will help fund innovative cancer research and treatment programs here at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Make a Gift
Contribute to Dana-Farber, honor someone special, remember a loved one, or set up a monthly giving plan.
Stephen Matarazzo, DMD