For years, Thomas Boxberger had put off a knee surgery he needed, but when he finally decided to have the procedure, he learned something devastating: He had lymphoma.
His doctors determined it was mantle cell lymphoma, a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Initially, he was part of a clinical trial with his oncologist in Syracuse and he went to a cancer center out of state. He was supposed to stay on the trial for 30 months but after three months, he had to end his participation. He was thought to be in remission, but a few months later, a scan showed the cancer was still there.
That’s when his doctor in Syracuse referred him to Wilmot, even though Tom felt strongly that he would return to the out-of-state cancer center where he’d gone before.
Then he met his oncologist, Paul Barr, M.D., and his nurse, Maureen Tremaine, R.N., M.S.N.
“When we met Dr. Barr and Maureen and got a tour, spent time with them, we felt like we were the only patients they had. It was all she wrote,” he says. “It’s one thing to care for patients, it’s another thing to care about patients and that’s what it is here, it’s caring about me.”
That first trip to Wilmot from Watertown felt especially challenging because a major accident on the Thruway delayed them. Instead of being an hour early like they intended, they were late. But their team remained attentive to their needs.
“Someone came up to me and said, ‘Can I get you coffee or tea or something?’” recalls Tom’s wife, Maryann. “And I said, well, I’m not the patient, the patient’s out in the hall and they said, ‘We understand you’ve been through a lot today. We just want to do whatever we can.’ And I thought, oh my goodness.”
Tom’s journey started out with a round of chemotherapy and a stay on WCC7, Wilmot’s adult hematology/oncology unit. They also went to the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge a few times when he had to receive outpatient services. Not only did it provide a place to sleep and meals, but it provided some camaraderie, too.
“It was wonderful staying at the Hope Lodge, to meet other people in the same situation. Because nobody else understands,” he says.
Next, it was time for a stem cell transplant with Michael W. Becker, M.D., and Sheri Guarino, R.N., O.C.N. Tom had his stem cells taken out and preserved. He then received six days of high-dose chemotherapy. The last day of high-dose chemo was difficult; it ended up being the only time he got sick. But he made sure to be active each day, and he thinks that helped him stay feeling decent throughout most of his treatment.
“Even though I didn’t want to be active, I forced myself to walk, and they brought a little bike into the room for me one day when they were concerned about infection so I had to stay in the room. That was awesome, to have that possibility,” he says. “Because if I couldn’t exercise I would’ve felt like I was missing something.”
After being discharged, he had to stay near Rochester for a few days before returning home to Watertown. He checked in regularly with his team and on Sept. 29, 2017, his team told him he’s in remission.
Today, he continues to do well. He enjoys spending time with his grandkids and in fact credits his faith, family and friends for getting him through this.
He’s also grateful for his teams in Syracuse and at Wilmot.
“I can’t imagine a better place to go through this. I can’t,” he says.