A Summary Shout Out to Bruckner Oncology

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Please Note: I still owe you an update of my next medical steps – coming soon! Until then let me close out this phase with the great Team Bruckner.

Back in June 2014 I posted about Joining Team Bruckner. I have made subsequent posts about the experience on the Livingly Dying blog. I completed a total of 13 treatments, each two weeks apart and all requiring out of state travel because I could not find an Oregon oncologist to provide the treatment.

I traveled to the Bruckner Oncology clinic in NYC four times and completed an additional 9 treatments in California under their guidance. As I take a break from the protocol it seems a good time for a summary update.

Bruckner Oncology is where many patients go when their oncologists say, “There is nothing more we can offer you.” Some patients, like me, start earlier in the process usually motivated by a cancer crisis. Over the last three years the docs at Bruckner Oncology have increasingly wrapped their big brains and huge hearts around recurrent ovca (ovarian cancer) because they like to focus on the cancers that stay especially deadly.

The partnership between the elder Dr. Bruckner and the younger Dr. Hirschfeld is a thing of beauty allowing every patient access to their best collegial thinking. I have worked with oncological teams in four different settings beyond Bruckner Oncology. I have had few complaints. My teams were caring and solid. I accepted the extremely limited contact with my actual doc. Nurse intermediaries represented me between the 15-minute visits with my oncologist. It worked but rarely felt like it encouraged dynamic problem solving.

To arrive at Bruckner Oncology is to leave that tiered system behind. Yes, there are PA (physicians assistants) and receptionists but they are a bridge not a barrier to your bountiful time with the doctors themselves. I can email or call my doctors directly at any point and expect a sprightly response – even when one is in Europe and the other had a baby late the night prior.

It’s a people’s clinic. No one is turned away. Every problem has an answer and they just don’t stop trying creative possibilities. Saying that, patients still die there. Recurrent, late stage cancer is not an easy to tame dilemma. They keep people alive for longer and have bragging rights on some amazing cases headed for hospice and now in their third year of remission with pancreatic cancer and more.

Their starting cocktail, adapted as needed, is built on the idea that lower doses of compatible chemos allow more impact with less damage and less development of resistance. But like any toxic cocktail it can’t be used forever. They start with that cocktail, continue through a post remission period and then tinker from there. Actually, they tinker throughout. That is why the level of contact between the doctor and patient is so high; they really need to KNOW how we are doing. They order a more comprehensive set of labs than most of us are used to. They listen, they look, they wonder. Throughout the infusion, they roam the room on a regular basis. And their interaction with the PAs and nurses is collegial and constant. There is a lot of respect being shared. (It also seems like staff love their jobs.)

What you don’t find there is a moneyed spa. The people’s clinic is crammed elbow to elbow. The nurses had better be damn good because a lot of the triple checks of other places are replaced with high competency expected of the primary nurses. They deliver. Visitors are often made to wait elsewhere or left standing for hours on end. It is crowded when your policy is to accept everyone. My husband noted, “It’s a bit like getting your chemo in a bus station.”

The front desk is understaffed. They can require multiple checks on every request but you see how much they are handling and so you partner with greater grace than you might at an overstaffed office, where systems are ironically often too staffed to work well. Here the problem is the opposite.

The treatment is Medicare covered. They do use creative, proven approaches like iv vitamin c that is yet to be paid for by any standard insurer but they are quick to advise you of out of pocket costs before you incur them.

The location of the clinic is in the Bronx, which is easy to get to if you are comfortable with public transportation. NYC is a Mecca for being able to get everywhere on little money. The American Cancer Society offers free lodging at Hope Lodge in midtown Manhattan – and an express bus available 5 blocks away goes to two blocks from the clinic.

There is no question that travelling to treatment is a challenge. I traveled cross-country and hated it. And it is expensive! I transitioned to a clinic in N California for treatments – still a slog but staying in the same time zone helps. I continue to seek a local provider but as I document on my blog that is not easy to do in our current medical industrial climate.

If you want more options I recommend that you flag this clinic for a time in your treatment when you don’t like what your local team is offering up. I started at Bruckner Oncology when my cancer surged from no evidence of disease (NED) status to being measured 45 days later in inoperable inches. Now I transition to a Phase One clinical trial knowing that in my six months of care with Bruckner Oncology, they disappeared my high volume of cancer. I transition because my cancer is starting to break through the cocktail and my body seeks a chemo break. I have no doubt that I will return to Bruckner Oncology again in this cancer journey.

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16 responses »

  1. Marcy, I’m always in awe of you when I read your posts when I see the combination of your fighting spirit and your organizing abilities combine to keep you going. Happy New Year – and I hope it’s a good one without any fears. ( thank you! John Lennon) Cathy

  2. Again, you show your fighting spirit and your resolve to battle your cancer and win, ready to take on the New Year. My wishes and prayers to you on this journey.

  3. Marcy, you are an inspiration, considering what you go thru on a daily basis you are a wealth of information making sure meticulous notes and information are reported for your good and the good of others. Thank you. May the Lord Bless You…Always…

  4. Thank you for this, Marcy! I love your honesty and am glad that the Buckner Clinic folks were a positive experience on this long arduous journey of yours. My best to you in 2015 as you embark on this new course of treatment. You are such an amazing woman! Thanks for being you and sharing yourself with all of us!

  5. I am new to this group. I am seeing Dr. Bruckner next week. I was dx in 3/14, surgery 3/17/14, chemo 6 X every 3 wks. Taxol and carboplatinum. I may be having a recurrence. CA 125 went from 15 to 34 in @ 2 wks. and then 41. I’m supposed to have a PET scan. An MRI showed some small suspicious something? I don’t like my doctors and feel that they are ordering numerous CAT scans and now a PET. If the chemo didn’t work with them – why not try someone new? I’m terrified because if I am having a recurrence maybe I should go for the PET and see what’s going on. How much radiation am I supposed to take? I am a single mom of 6 1/2 yr. old boy/girl twins that I had at age 59 – long story. I am hoping Dr. Bruckner can offer some direction and most of all – hope.

    CarolMarisa

    • Keep me posted on how it goes. I am not sure I would do the Bruckner Protocol as early in the game as you are. It’s a big hammer. On the other hand, you want to have docs you have faith in. I would encourage you to ALSO look for some clinical trial for your situation. You would qualify for a lot right now. But once you move into being heavily pre-treated, you are so less eligible for trials that aren’t scary. I would really consider a. Calling Clearity Foundation and Libby’s Hope – find them under links on my blog and b. recruiting their support in ALL options. Part of outliving this is making choices about when you do what.

      Good luck!

  6. Whew, what a journey! Thank you for writing clearly about the experience. I like your husband’s quote about the supermarket chemo. Soon you will head south again for the trial. I hope it’s sunny and warm in California.

  7. Your articulate sharing, enduring optimism and angelic countenance are a most welcomed and miraculous gift. Thank you, Marcy. Peace, love and a warm hug to you today and always as we enter 2015 together.

  8. Am thrilled to hear your positive experience with options available from Bruckner Oncology. What a difference it makes for your continued journey. I hear hope and great expectations coming from you. Love, Bon

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