This Elizabeth Taylor isn’t a legend of the big screen, but she is a legend at Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) Tumour Board meetings. A Tumour Board meeting is where oncology doctors discuss their most challenging cancer cases and consult one another about the best course of treatment.
Liz, as she likes to be called, is a cancer survivor from Midland, Ontario, and a thriving testament to the skilled work of many, but in particular three doctors: Dr. Patrick Gullane, Dr. Woodrow Wells, and Dr. John Kim.
She has a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. It began ten years ago in her sinus, and metastasized (spread) along the nerves of her face and head. She has had five separate surgeries and two courses of radiation involving many daily treatments.
“We call Elizabeth our legend because she defies the odds in so many ways from a medical perspective,” says Dr. Patrick Gullane, Otolaryngologist-in-Chief at PMH. “We have learned a great deal from treating her, and she always wants to help the next patient by contributing to our research efforts.”
‘Patient-centred care’ is a phrase used often by the people in charge of operating Princess Margaret Hospital, and doctors like Gullane, Wells, and Kim deliver on that commitment. “The doctors have always taken the time to explain the treatment and the risks to me. They are so down to earth and so human,” shares Liz when asked why she holds PMH in such high esteem.
But she also points out that patient-centred care is not exclusive to surgeons and therapists. Liz has spent long periods of time in the hospital, and feels that she received royal treatment from everyone she interacted with—staff at the PMH Lodge, recovery room nurses, volunteers, and doctors’ assistants. “I have never felt like a number,” she affirms.
In addition to providing the best in patient care to people with cancer, PMH is a research and teaching hospital, where new treatments are pioneered and the surgeons of tomorrow are trained.
One of the areas where major progress is being made is in highly-conformal radiation therapy. This has been of tremendous value in Liz’s treatment. She calls Dr. Kim her ‘high tech’ doctor because he uses this new technology that provides a 3-dimensional view of her tumour for treatment planning. Dr. Kim explains that, “Combining conformal radiation therapy with image-guided radiation therapy, we can plan, deliver and verify 3-dimensional radiation treatments that are accurate to within millimetres. This allows much more healthy tissue to be spared. Patients like Liz now have radiation treatment options that are considerably more advanced than the previous standard of therapy.”
Because of the many surgeries she has had, Liz now has some numbness and paralysis in some areas of her face. She might not be able to feel if a new tumour were forming. For this reason, she will continue to be on a steady regime of CT scans and MRIs to keep watch for any new cancerous tumours.
Talking to Liz, one cannot help but ask her how she maintains such a positive spirit, and she gives most of the credit to simply having confidence in her doctors. “Dr. Gullane always takes the time to talk with me before surgery. He makes me feel so comfortable, and that is half the battle.”