L-R: Surgeon Roberto Gedaly, MD; liver cancer patient Teresa Schladt; oncologist Philip DeSimone, MD.
IT TAKES A TEAM TO TACKLE TOUGH LIVER CANCER
Teresa Schladt’s self-portrait, painted in 2013 during an art therapy project for patients at UK HealthCare, shows the Lexington, Ky. woman springing into a star-filled, midnight-blue sky. Inside each star is the name of someone who supported her through her 2007 liver transplant and cancer
treatment and in the days since.
As the now-55-year-old looks at the painting and considers the life she has, she is quick to remind others and herself: “I am one of the luckiest people you have ever met. I am happy with life.”
Diagnosed with a genetic disorder
Schladt was diagnosed at age 35 with alpha-1- antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency, a genetic disorder that can damage the liver and lungs. For a decade after her diagnosis, she lived an active, near-normal life. But in late 2006, her liver began to fail.
Under the guidance of surgeon Roberto Gedaly, MD, director of the UK Transplant Center, Schladt began the required tests and screenings for a transplant in January 2007. She was placed on the transplant list in March and received a new liver in June.
A cancer diagnosis
on the heels of a liver transplant
Schladt’s transplant went well, but 10 days later, tests on the removed liver revealed 10 small cancerous lesions.
Because Schladt’s cancer was advanced, with multiple lesions, Gedaly referred her to Philip DeSimone, MD, a medical oncologist at the UK Markey Cancer Center.
“You need to be aggressive when you have spent so much time and so much effort in saving someone’s life.” – Philip
Both Gedaly, whose research area is liver cancer, and DeSimone, whose practice areas include liver, pancreatic, gastrointestinal and colorectal cancers, knew that a drug used primarily for kidney cancer, Nexavar®, was being used off-label in some liver cancer cases after
liver transplantation. There was little data to show it was effective in cases like Schladt’s, but both doctors felt it was worth a try.
DeSimone pulled no punches. Schladt had two choices: Nexavar or no additional treatment.
“She was nice and appreciative of what I was trying to do,” DeSimone said, “even though there was little, really no data, to show if [the treatment] was either good or bad. But you need to be aggressive when you have spent so much time and so much effort in saving someone’s
Schladt opted to take Nexavar in pill form. The six-month chemotherapy regimen left her sick and weak, but she has no regrets and has remained cancer-free.
Since Schladt’s surgery, the connection between the two specialty areas – transplantation and cancer – has become even more structured at UK HealthCare with the creation of a Liver Tumor Board. Board members from transplant, oncology, radiation oncology, radiology
and gastroenterology discuss every patient with liver tumors.
Enjoying a fulfilling life
Even as Schladt contends with continuing health problems caused by AAT deficiency, she is living a full life with few limits.
She’s active in the community, and for the past two years she’s been a member of the Markey Cancer Center Patient Advisory Group.
The art therapy project at UK reawakened a long- dormant interest in art, and she now spends time painting in her downtown condo. During the day, the sun beams in. At night, she sees stars, a shining reminder, she said, of the stellar support system that has seen her through the last nine years.