Charles Florsheim, 61, lives and works in Fort Worth, Texas, but found lung cancer treatment and compassionate health care less than an hour away in Dallas at the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern. The Simmons Cancer Center is the region’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, and for patients who seek the most promising therapies and innovative treatments available here, no distance is too far to travel.
Charles' battle with lung cancer began in his hometown of Fort Worth – and it started, in a way, with a different diagnosis. In May 2008, during a routine physical examination, Charles was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The prostate was removed in June at a hospital in Fort Worth, but complications from the procedure, including severe nerve damage, led to a second surgery, also in Fort Worth, in December.
Still, problems persisted. Charles says, "I was not satisfied with the results of the surgery and by April 2009, I was determined to bring my records to UT Southwestern for review to see if the surgical procedure could be enhanced.”
Charles, a practicing attorney, gave his records a glance. “I was thumbing through them,” he says, “and found a preoperative chest x-ray relating to my December 2008 surgery.” The x-ray indicated that there was a mass on his right lung, and there was a written recommendation that Charles have a CT scan.
“Apparently the results of the x-ray had not been previously reviewed, as this was the first I had heard of this issue,” Charles says. “So I took the x-rays to my family doctor who ordered the CT scan. As a result, I had a biopsy, which indicated lung cancer.”
Charles’ cousin, a retired physician and graduate of UT Southwestern, recommended he see Joan Schiller, M.D., chief of UT Southwestern’s Division of Hematology/Oncology and deputy director of the Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Book Smart and Healing Hugs
Dr. Schiller remembers Charles as an inquisitive, well-informed patient, and says, “I appreciate the fact that patients like Charles have done their homework and know where they are in terms of their condition and treatment options.”
Charles says, “Dr. Schiller and her staff were amazing. When you are first diagnosed with cancer, all you have are questions. When I came to see Dr. Schiller, she not only answered all my questions but provided me with a book that she had written. Each and every question that I had prior to coming see Dr. Schiller, and those that arose during the course of my treatment, was answered in her book.” Dr. Schiller co-authored (with Karen Parles, founder of the Lung Cancer Online Foundation) 100 Questions & Answers about Lung Cancer, a reference guide that is particularly helpful for those who are newly diagnosed with the disease.
Until you have experienced the fear and terror of cancer, you cannot understand what this meant to me and to my family. Those women are my angels.– Charles Florsheim
During that first visit, Charles found more than just answers – he found comfort. “You may not understand what this means to someone who is terrified of meeting their oncologist for the first time, like I was, but the first person [my wife and I] met was Dr. Schiller’s nurse, Devrie Hahn,” Charles says. “She knew how anxious we all were, and she gave me a hug and assured me everything would be all right.” Hahn’s hug was followed by another from Dr. Schiller’s nurse practitioner, Sharon Woodruff.
“I can still feel those hugs to this day, and I will never forget their kind and gentle manner,” Charles says. “Until you have experienced the fear and terror of cancer, you cannot understand what this meant to me and to my family. Those women are my angels.”
Hahn says, “I feel blessed and honored to play a small role in the care of our oncology patients. I frequently tell my patients I receive much more than I give. I can't begin to understand the fear, anxiety, and emotional turmoil every patient experiences, but I hope to provide them not only with the information they need, but emotional support as well.”
Woodruff adds, “I knew that words might go unheard, so I reached out with a hug to let him know that we would be here to guide him through this most difficult time.”
After the initial examination and subsequent consultation, Charles underwent surgery to remove the upper and middle lobes of his right lung. It was determined he had Stage IA lung cancer, but no further treatment following surgery was indicated.
Charles says, “As a result of my experience with lung cancer, it has become my passion to do whatever I can to further awareness about this disease and to do what I can to further funding or research regarding early detection and treatment.” In fact, in 2010, Charles began serving a term as director of the National Lung Cancer Partnership.
“I have developed a bond with UT Southwestern and the medical staff,” Charles says. “I can never express in words the appreciation I have for UT Southwestern. The care and attention I received while going through the terrible encounter with lung cancer is what enabled me to survive.
“UT Southwestern, especially the Simmons Cancer Center,” Charles says, “is truly a gift from God.”