From AML to Ph.D.: How Wilmot helped one patient diagnosed with leukemia

Oct. 5, 2017

In April 2014, H. Ege Ozen had a clear goal in mind: To obtain his Ph.D. in Political Science from Binghamton University. He was about a year away from graduation and had started his dissertation. His work was very stressful.

After coming home from a conference in Chicago, he didn’t feel quite right. He had neck pain, dizziness and a fever for a few days before he went to the emergency room in Binghamton. The doctor suspected he probably had a type of blood cancer and Ege was immediately referred to a specialist. He considered returning to his home in Turkey for care, but his doctor suggested a long flight wasn’t a great idea given his health. 

Instead, he took an ambulance from Binghamton to Rochester, where he was admitted to WCC7 under the care of Kristen O’Dwyer, M.D. He says he and his wife Sinem very quickly felt confident in his decision to come to Wilmot.Ege Ozen with his oncologist, Dr. Kristen O'Dwyer, and wife, Sinem

“She made everything crystal clear for us to understand and embrace,” he said.

The day after being admitted, he suffered from subdural bleeding and, for a few days, had to stay in Strong Memorial Hospital’s intensive care unit. There, he had his first bone marrow biopsy and was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

Over the next 11 months, he received treatment for his leukemia. In total, he stayed on WCC7 for 108 nights, but the people at Wilmot made it special for him.

“The way I was treated by every single nurse, nurse practitioner, medical assistant, social worker, service worker and doctor at Wilmot Cancer Institute reminded me how important patients’ lives are and how much they care about me as a patient,” he says. “And obviously after you spend more than 100 days in the same floor in a hospital, people who put their precious hours of work for you become your extended family.”

The standard of treatment for Ege’s leukemia is a two-drug chemotherapy regimen, but he enrolled in a national Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG)-sponsored clinical trial that added a third drug to the regimen. The results of the trial have not been published yet. 

While receiving treatment, he took a break from his Ph.D. studies. It wasn’t easy for him to put his research aside and when he did finally return to his work, he restarted the dissertation process with a new topic. With support from his advisor, he defended his dissertation and received his Ph.D. in Political Science in 2016. Today, Ege works as an assistant professor at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.

His experience with leukemia led him to reprioritize his life and find healthier ways to manage stress, such as yoga, meditation and breathing exercises. Having support from his wife has helped him embrace these stress-relieving techniques as he continues to look to the future.

“I have never been a very competitive person, but I am educating myself to accept and be satisfied with what I already have in life so far,” he said. “I always remind myself the motto of simple is beautiful, in almost every domain of life.”