January 26, 2024
When Jerry Maness, 63, first contacted his primary doctor after noticing his high blood pressure medicine would get stuck in his throat, he did not expect he’d be battling cancer for the next year.
“It was all so fast,” Jerry said describing the day he was diagnosed in December 2022. “I had no idea I had anything like that going on until I couldn’t swallow pills.”
What followed were weeks of testing, months of chemotherapy, and an aggressive surgery to remove the tumor in his esophagus. Through it all, Jerry and his wife, Lori Maness, said the care experience was outstanding, from the smiles and positivity they were met with at each visit at the Kaiser Permanente San Leandro Medical Center’s infusion clinic to the diligence of Jerry’s doctors, who took the time to have candid conversations which made them feel heard and cared for.
“We have always generally been very happy with Kaiser Permanente, but we want you to know how much it has meant to us this past year to be Kaiser Permanente members,” Jerry and Lori wrote in a letter sent to the care team last month. “The responsiveness, caring, and concern we have felt is beyond what we ever expected.”
Immediate care after a scary diagnosis
Diagnosed with stage 3 esophageal cancer at the San Leandro Medical Center, Jerry was immediately connected with Deepa Reddy, MD, an oncologist at the San Leandro Medical Center and Jeffrey Velotta, MD, a thoracic surgeon at the Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center. He was also put in touch with Lauren Walker, a primary coordinator for Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s regional upper gastrointestinal malignancy program.
“It was a scary diagnosis,” Lori said. “And it meant so much to have everybody, and I mean everybody from the top down, be as wonderful and kind as they were.”
Walker was at the center of scheduling Maness’ tests. She checks up on her patients’ appointments several times a day to make sure everything is scheduled in the right order and as quickly as possible. She said it’s important to her to be readily accessible to her patients, keeping them informed consistently throughout the process.
“Lauren was always very kind, and it was great that we could reach out to her anytime we had questions,” Lori said.
Caring with positivity and hope
Dr. Reddy immediately built a positive rapport with them by asking about their lives and their grandchildren. Dr. Reddy made them both feel heard, following up on details of their previous conversations at each new appointment.
Dr. Velotta removed the tumor in Jerry’s esophagus in March 2023. After Jerry was discharged, Dr. Velotta called every day for 2 weeks to make sure Jerry did not have any concerns or complications.
“Many times, when Dr. Velotta called, I could hear his kids in the background, which made us feel even more cared for — knowing he was calling on his own time while at his home,” Lori said.
Jerry was also impressed. “I felt like I got a superman for a doctor,” Jerry added. “He answered all my questions and was always so positive, straightforward, and confident.”
Dr. Velotta said he approaches his patients with positivity on purpose — esophageal cancer has a low survival rate. It’s important to instill hope for a good outcome as early as possible, he said.
“I talk like it’s ‘a glass half full’ with my patients,” Dr. Velotta said. “The way we do our care allows us to be more aggressive with our treatment. It’s such a complex disease, so it’s super rewarding to see patients do well.”
Today, Jerry is in remission, but he continues to complete follow-up scans every few months.
Despite still healing and dealing with some memory challenges and neuropathy in his fingers, Jerry said he is grateful for his care and treatment.
After not being able to travel for over a year, he and Lori are excited about a trip to Yellowstone National Park in May.
“You have to have hope,” Lori said.
This article originally appeared in My KP.