When Brian Fitzgerald learned he had lung cancer in 2016, he and his wife Jolene decided to come to Wilmot Cancer Institute for care. Despite the two-hour-plus drive from Utica, Brian says it was the best decision they’ve made since his diagnosis.
“They treat you like a person that they know, not like someone that they’re just trying to help,” he says. “It’s something that I’ve never experienced with any hospital I’ve been to.”
Initially diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer, Brian had surgery with thoracic surgeon Joseph Wizorek, M.D. Brian appreciated the way Dr. Wizorek felt more like a friend than just a doctor.
But what he really appreciated didn’t come until 2019, when Brian learned his cancer had returned. He had started coughing and even had a little bit of blood in his phlegm. He said it didn’t seem like a big deal and he probably would’ve ignored it, but his wife, a nurse, insisted he get it checked out. He had a CT scan – earlier than his normal six-month scan had been scheduled – and that’s when they found the cancer had spread.
Dr. Wizorek wasted no time in taking action, getting Brian in the same day to see medical oncologist Arpan Patel, M.D. and a radiation oncologist Michael Milano, M.D., Ph.D. That quick turnaround could happen because of the relationship the three have as members of a multidisciplinary oncology team.
“They have such a great team, and they talk to each other. These doctors at Strong respond to each other. It’s amazing. Until I came up to Strong, I never had seen teamwork like they do there. Everything’s teamwork. It’s not individually done,” Brian says. “They talk your whole case over with each other and see what’s right for you.”
For Brian, the next steps were radiation therapy, which he finished with Dr. Milano in November 2019. He continues coming in every three weeks for a chemotherapy/immunotherapy infusion.
After everything, Brian says he’s most grateful for his wife, to whom he’s been married for 38 years.
“If it wasn’t for her and her doing what she’s done for me with the doctors and Strong Memorial and looking into me every day how I feel, I probably wouldn’t even be here,” he says. “I’m so grateful to all the doctors I have at Strong Memorial and Wilmot Cancer Center.”
He says he’s also grateful because he can continue the life he loves – spending time with his wife, working his career in construction – which he’s done for 39 years – and enjoying hockey in the winter, golf in the summer. He was with the Utica Devils for six years and served as president of the Utica Hockey Alumni.
While coming to the University of Rochester is a bit of a drive for Brian and Jolene, he doesn’t mind.
“It’s worth the drive because I have so much confidence in the people I have out there,” he says. “And sometimes things don’t go the way you want them to, but at least I know I had a great team that worked on me. You couldn’t be more satisfied with that.”