Whittingham Cancer Center: Care With A Hometown Heart

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 Menchaca

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.

Whittingham Cancer Center

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.)

7 responses to “Whittingham Cancer Center: Care With A Hometown Heart

  1. Adam Vengrow

    Great you posted on them, a female friend just went through cancer there and had a very similar experience. Congrats and best wishes to Tony and his family. On a similar note, people dont realize how incredible the Heart group at Bridgeport Hospital is. I have famiky that went through it and they are one of the best groups in the country. People dont realize because they hear Bridgeport Hospital and make assumptions that its something different by the name and location.

  2. Great story about a great guy and a wonderful care team. Hoping for good weather for the CT Challenge folks!

  3. Holly Wheeler

    12 years ago I was treated in the (old) Whittingham Cancer Center. I didn’t have chemo, but for 8 weeks, I was there at 7:45 every morning for radiation. The names I still remember all these years later are Jackie the nurse, Noel the phlebotomist, and Dr. Singhavi, And, of course, Dr. Zelkowitz. They were a spectacular team of very special people and made my experience something I almost looked forward to.
    The other day I had my annual appointment with Dr. Z. The new Whittingham Cancer Center is something to behold. I didn’t see the treatment areas, but I am certain that they are as up-to-date and sparkling as the new office area. And the warmth is still there.
    Happy Anniversary on the 15th !!!!

  4. I, too, received excellent and compassionate care at the Whittingham Cancer Center. I also received great support in their breast cancer support
    group. Mary Condon, Southport

  5. Dr.James McClane was my surgeon in 2013 when I had colon cancer, and also had to have a foot of colon removed. I don’t think you could find a better doctor anywhere. Not only is he an excellent surgeon, but he really shows that he cares about all his patients. His pre-op and post-op care was incredible, although I fortunately didn’t have to have chemo. I had to stay in Norwalk Hospital for two weeks, and the staff was as caring and compassionate as you could find anywhere. We are so fortunate to have such an excellent facility so close.

  6. Lori Winthrop Dockser

    51 weeks of chemo at whittigham and would do it all over again(we’ll not really). Compassionate care, amazing doctors and nurses. So many outreach programs including the Pink Purse program to help women pay bills, get rides and so many other things during their cancer treatment. It’s a winner for norwalk hospital …. shout out to Dr. Zarah and his team!

  7. like others Fairfield county I was successfully treated at Whittingham cancer Center. It was last century, but I still remember the kindness that I was treated witam walking and running with my friends and family as part of team floppenheimer