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No need to leave McKeesport for cancer treatment, survivor says

| Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 1:36 a.m.

Cancer survivor Jo Ellen Kenney said there is no need to seek treatment outside of McKeesport when diagnosed with the potentially deadly disease.

“When you hear the word cancer, stay here in McKeesport and have faith in the experts,” she told the group attending the Cancer Care Symposium at UPMC McKeesport on Friday. “They will know if you have to move on to another facility.”

Kenney, the director of the Carnegie Library of McKeesport, was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago.

“The doctors I was involved with were able to talk to me as a pretty dumbed-down person,” she said, noting it took a couple months before things started making sense. “When I was diagnosed I was pretty much scared to death.”

She said she was asked many times in those initial weeks if she was going to seek a second opinion. But she never did.

“I told them that as soon I have any doubts about what they are doing I would get a second opinion,” Kenney said. “I trusted these people very quickly and never had any doubts. During my dumb period, they kept explaining my choices to me, and the end result.”

She praised her medical team, especially those in the radiation department.

“They made such a difference in what I had to go through,” she said. “They were so patient and kind. I wanted everything to be over in a minute. The people in the radiation department were the kindest people during such a terrible time.”

On two occasions, she thought she would have to miss a treatment.

“I was devastated,” she said. “I knew it was supposed to be over in 33 days. I had that in my head and I didn't want to get my 33 days messed up.

“The first time it happened, they called at the end of the day and said I could come in for my treatment, so that my 33 days would still be good. They knew my target date and did what they could so I could keep it. I'm very grateful for the people in that department.”

A panel of six physicians offered updates on cancer care at UPMC McKeesport. Before that, attendees had a chance to talk to those involved with support services.

Dr. Kevin Kane, division chief of Medical Oncology at UPMC CancerCenter at UPMC McKeesport, said smoking cessation is key when it comes to prevention of cancer.

“We have to work with the schools to try to get kids not to start smoking, because once they start it's very, very difficult to stop,” he said.

“Smoking kills,” Dr. Ghulam Abbas, chief of thoracic surgery at the hospital, said. “There are absolutely no benefits from smoking.”

Abbas said 22 percent of the 8 million cancer deaths each year are caused by smoking.

“If you quit smoking, in 10 years you have the same risk as the rest of the population for getting cancer,” he said.

Lung cancer is prevalent here, Kane said, because of the toxins from the mills. A low-dose CT scan can detect the disease in its early stage.

“If cancer can be detected on CT scans it can be detected early,” Kane said. “This screening is meant for heavy smokers over 50. By the time cancer is detected on a chest x-ray it's too late because the cancer is large at that point.”

Lung cancer remains the leading cause of death for men and women, although esophagus cancer is quickly gaining ground in the United States and around the world.

“Esophageal cancer is a bad disease to have,” Abbas said. “Most patients are in the advanced stage when they are diagnosed.”

Radiologist Dr. Marvin Abdalah talked about the importance of mammography in detecting breast cancer. Medical oncologist Dr. Jason Bierenbaum dispelled 10 myths about cancer. General surgeon Dr. Steven Gribar discussed the “cutting edge” surgical care offered at the McKeesport hospital. Division chief of Radiation Oncology Dr. Susan Rakfat talked about advances in radiation therapy.

Carol Waterloo Frazier is an editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1916, or

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