New device beams hope in continuous cancer fight

Cyclist Lance Armstrong unveils new technology at Arundel medical center

Annapolis

December 20, 2002|By Gabriel Baird | Gabriel Baird,SUN STAFF

The courage that helped Lance Armstrong beat cancer and win cycling's most prestigious race inspired hundreds of people yesterday at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis, where he introduced new cancer-fighting technology that uses precise beams of radiation to target tumors.

"I never would have won the Tour de France without the illness," Armstrong said at the event, during which the hospital also announced it would name its cancer center after Geaton A. DeCesaris Jr., 47, of Lothian and his wife, JoAnne, in honor of their $3 million contribution.

The crowd of hospital staff members, local officials, cycling enthusiasts, cancer survivors and their families listened intently as Armstrong described his life as a "slacker" before being diagnosed with cancer in 1996. Battling an advanced form of testicular cancer that had spread to his abdomen, lungs and brain changed his life. "When you walk out the hospital door, you're different," Armstrong said. "Everything is different."

Armstrong, who spoke briefly to the audience before leaving the hospital campus, recounted the trauma of learning that he had cancer and undergoing surgery shortly thereafter.

He stressed to cancer patients the importance of researching the illness and talking to several doctors about the appropriate treatment. Offering an example, he said his first doctors prescribed a treatment that might have damaged his lungs.

"The new doctors switched drugs to preserve my cycling career," Armstrong said. He eventually resumed training with a new passion and won the Tour de France four consecutive times starting in 1999.

Irene Repka, 43, of Annapolis, a nurse on leave from Anne Arundel Medical Center, was one of the cancer patients who attended yesterday's event.

"I like to see people who've made it," said Repka, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in July and is undergoing treatment. "It's inspiring."

Armstrong was on hand as a spokesman for BrainLAB Inc. of Munich, Germany, which produces one of the cancer-fighting technologies recently bought by the center.

Called Novalis, the device uses beams of radiation to treat tumors in the brain, head, neck, spine, liver, lung and prostate without hurting surrounding tissue.

When the device becomes operational next month, the center will be the only location in the mid-Atlantic region to have such technology, officials at the medical center said.

"What we are introducing today is an investment in technology ... to offer new hope," said Dr. Stanley P. Watkins Jr., director of oncology.

Yesterday's event also recognized the donation the DeCesarises made after Geaton DeCesaris was diagnosed with lung cancer six weeks ago. The contribution was the largest in the hospital's 101-year history, said spokeswoman Tricia L. Hoyle.

"We've been all around the country," said DeCesaris, president of homebuilding and chief operating officer of Hovnanian Enterprises Inc. of New Jersey. "We're impressed with the Anne Arundel Medical Center."

Including Counting DeCesaris' contribution, the center has raised $7.6 million of the $13 million needed to renovate the cancer center and improve technology, hospital officials said.

After yesterday's event, Repka said she hopes her fight with cancer will help her career the way Armstrong said it did his. As soon as doctors say she is well enough, she will return to work as a nurse.

"It gives you a whole new perspective on what patients have to go through," she said.

She recalled how tired she would be at the end of a day when the last patient would ask for her help. Being on the receiving end of treatment has taught her how much patients need and appreciate a nurse's time.

"I'd like to think I'll be a better nurse," she said.

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