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When she started seeing patients in the Older Adult Leukemia Program at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center (DF/BWCC) last year, Jane Ann Driver, MD, MPH, couldn't have asked for a better first one than Rabbi Marc Samuels.
Samuels, 85, treated at DF/BWCC by Driver and Richard Stone, MD, for the past four years for the pre-leukemia condition known as myelodysplastic syndrome, knows something about survival. As a teenager during World War II, he was a prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where his parents, four sisters, and a brother were all killed. Moving to America, he attended the Jewish Theological Seminary for seven years, where he earned his rabbinical degree. He also earned a graduate degree in education from Columbia University and then led congregations for more than four decades.
"I've had challenges in my life, but I've been lucky, too,” Samuels says with a smile, looking over at Carol, his wife of 56 years. Each week the couple makes the one-mile trip to Dana-Farber's Yawkey Center for Cancer Care and meets with Driver, who is trained as both a geriatrician and oncologist and who co-directs the Older Adult Leukemia Program with hematologist/oncologist Gabriela Motyckova, MD, PhD. Although Samuels doesn't need chemotherapy, Driver explains, his bone marrow disorder requires he have a weekly injection to keep his platelets at a healthy level.
"Leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome are diseases of older people; children can get them, but the second peak is in people in their 70s, 80s, and beyond,” says Driver. "The longer people live, the more likely they are to get these diseases.”
And because older cancer patients must be seen more frequently, an added benefit of the Older Adult Leukemia Program is that Driver can also monitor Samuels as his primary care physician. "The idea is to have a very patient-centered program,” says Driver. "Geriatricians have their expertise, oncologists have theirs, and it's a wonderful combination for these patients to have access to both in one place.”
This arrangement came in particularly handy recently when Samuels fell and broke his pelvis; Driver arranged for him to be treated by an orthopedist next door at partnering Brigham and Women's Hospital, and he was back for his regular oncology appointment just three weeks later.
"Because they may not see or hear as well, or might forget things, older patients can be discriminated against in the health care system,” says Carol Samuels. "Here we are treated wonderfully. The doctors, nurses, and everybody else couldn't be nicer, and the facility is just beautiful.”
Marc Samuels jokes that he feels like a celebrity when he arrives for treatment, and calls Driver "more my friend than just my doctor.” When he comments during a recent visit on his good fortune in finding her, she smiles back and says the feeling is mutual.