Tony Menchaca’s 2006 colonoscopy was clean. With no family history of colon cancer, he was happy to wait 10 years for his next one.
But when he saw blood in his stool in 2013, he had another procedure. Diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer, a foot of his colon was removed at Norwalk Hospital.
The disease had spread to his lymph nodes. He faced 6 months of chemotherapy.
Tony — a Westporter since 1990, whose 3 boys earned fame as Staples High School wrestlers — had a choice. He could undergo chemo at world renowned Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, or at the much smaller Whittingham Cancer Center at Norwalk Hospital.
His surgeon, Dr. James McClane, described the value of a local center. It was important, he said, to think about ease of access, and the personalization of a smaller facility.
Tony chose Whittingham. Four years later — and cancer-free — he is very pleased with his experience.
“I got super treatment,” Tony says. “The level of expertise is comparable to New York. And the amount of caring was phenomenal.”
(Whittingham Cancer Center recently affiliated with Memorial Sloan Kettering. MSK medical and radiation oncologists are now onsite at Norwalk Hospital.)
Over 6 months, Tony underwent 12 rounds of chemo. He’d go in on Monday, for 3 hours of infusion. On Wednesday, he returned to have his pump disconnected. The next day, he went back for a booster shot.
Tony drove himself to his appointments. He did not want his wife Sara or his kids hanging around the infusion suite.
However, the setup encourages loved ones or friends to be there during treatment. “If you want people around, it’s great,” he notes.
Tony’s oncologist, Dr. Richard Frank, was very accessible. “I always saw him,” Tony says. “He’s a great guy, and like most of the doctors there, he’s local.”
So local, in fact, that he plays sax in the popular doctor-dominated rock band DNR.
“I may not have had that level of exposure to a physician in a larger cancer center,” Tony says.
But, Tony says, the heart of Whittingham is its chemo suite infusion nurses. They’re the ones he spent most of his time with. He can’t say enough about their expertise and concern.
The real eye-opener, though, was “the value of a local cancer center. If he spent 6 months commuting to chemo, Tony believes his recovery would have been far harder.
Even before his diagnosis, Tony had ridden in the CT Challenge, a bike ride fundraiser for cancer survivors. He’s now done it 7 times.
His other major effort is Whittingham’s 3K walk and 5K run. It’s doubly special this year: the 15th annual event for the cancer center falls on the 125th anniversary of Norwalk Hospital.
It’s Saturday, May 5 at Calf Pasture Beach. That’s just a couple of miles from his Westport home, so of course Tony will be there.
It’s not like he has to go all the way to New York for exercise.
Or excellent, life-saving cancer care.
(For more information on the Whittingham Cancer Center Walk & Sally’s Run, click here.)