|Spring 2010-Survivor Profile|
When Tony Meyer, owner of Classic Wine Company in Homewood, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in June 2008, his past flashed before his eyes. His past as a physician, that is. A former UAB faculty member, Dr. Meyer found himself relying on the specialists and staff at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center to save his life. “I think of it as my adventure on the other side of the stethoscope,” he says.
The diagnosis came following a routine exam with his primary care physician, and although Dr. Meyer knew he wasn’t healthy, the thought of cancer hadn’t entered his mind. “It took my breath away,” he says. “I was expecting a different diagnosis.” His wife, Jennifer, was shocked as well, he said. “I hadn’t prepared her for that. As a matter of fact, I had told her not to worry about it, because I wasn’t worried,” he says. “That was a mistake.”
Suddenly, Dr. Meyer found himself back at UAB. “I went to the Comprehensive Cancer Center because I had read enough about lymphoma to know that at some point I was going to need specialized, sophisticated treatment,” he says.
Having spent most of his time on the doctor side of the doctor-patient relationship, Dr. Meyer wasn’t sure what to expect now that he was on the receiving end of the needle prick. He imagined cancer treatment as day after day of shuffling between labs and exam rooms—and hours spent sitting in waiting areas. “And that’s exactly what didn’t happen,” Dr. Meyer says. “My lab work was instantly available, and by the time I was seated in the clinic, all of my information was available, and a decision had been made about my treatment. I didn’t have to spend hours worrying and waiting for the results of a test or scan.” That level of attention and care made both Dr. Meyer and his wife more comfortable with the initial recommendation from Cancer Center associate scientist and lymphoma specialist James Foran, M.D.: Do nothing. Dr. Meyer didn’t meet the criteria for treatment.
“I had read enough prior to my appointment to know that was a possibility,” Dr. Meyer says. “And although I knew that was the right thing to do, it was still difficult for me to know that I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and that we weren’t going to do anything but a scan every three months. I knew that was the right advice; I just had to get used to it.”
A short time later, Dr. Meyer’s cancer had progressed enough to qualify him for treatment. Dr. Foran treated him with R-CHOP, a cocktail of standard chemotherapy drugs supplemented by the drug Rituximab. Dr. Meyer received treatment at The Kirklin Clinic every three weeks for six cycles—all while working full-time at the wine shop. He says he read about possible side effects but experienced very few of them aside from distal neuropathy—numbness and tingling of the hands and feet. “I had to pay extra attention when I was holding cases of wine so that I didn’t drop bottles,” Dr. Meyer says. He also lost some hair. “But that didn’t interfere with my life,” he says. “I’m 61 years old; I didn’t have much hair to lose anyway.”
Remission and Reflections
At the end of six cycles of chemotherapy, PET scans showed no evidence of cancer, and more than a year after his diagnosis, Dr. Meyer remains cancer-free. “It’s the greatest possible response to have,” he says. “I’m in complete remission now.”
When Dr. Meyer reflects on his experience with cancer, he recalls the inspiration that drew him to medicine years ago. “Behind my career in medicine was a wonderful fascination with the science of medicine—the wonderful, practical nature of how scientific information was translated to treatment,” he says. Following medical school, Dr. Meyer spent time in New York working in the laboratory under Gerald Edelman, M.D., a biologist who later won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his studies of antibody molecules. Dr. Meyer recalls a luncheon conference where Dr. Edelman spoke about the potential of antibodies to cure cancer once chemotherapeutic or radioactive agents were attached.
“I remember scoffing at it, thinking, ‘We’ll never be able to do that,’” Dr. Meyer says. “It was a showstopper for me when I read about the drugs I was being treated with at UAB, and I realized that Rituximab is just what Edelman had talked about. The front end is designed to attack the cancer cells I had, and the rest of it is designed with human antibodies. It made such a difference in my cancer and my life. That’s the sort of thing that got me interested in medicine—the application of basic science to things that matter in people’s lives.”