December 18, 2017

Little Rock Man Beats Cancer Twice with Help of UAMS

Dec. 18, 2017 | After 40 years, Jerry and Sharon Moskwiak were ready to leave the cold Michigan winters behind.

They considered a move to their favorite vacation spot in South Carolina, but there was one catch: The nearest academic health care center was at least one hour away.

Because Sharon had worked for 35 years at the University of Michigan, including several years in their medical school, the couple was familiar with the advantages of receiving health care in an academic research setting.

And, because Jerry was a 25-year lung cancer survivor and lived with other chronic illnesses, access to quality health care was one of their top requirements when searching for a new place to call home.

That’s when they turned their sights to Little Rock.

“I grew up in Little Rock and knew the health care was exceptional. That was one of the main reasons we decided to move back here,” Sharon said.

After getting settled into their new home, the Moskwiaks set about finding a primary care physician. Their first and only stop was at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), Arkansas’ only academic health care center. During one of his initial appointments, Jerry received some unexpected news that convinced them they had made the right move at the right time.

“The doctor noticed a spot on my chest X-ray, and the next thing I knew we were discussing a plan for chemo,” Jerry said.

The spot was diagnosed as a subtype of non-Hodgkin lymphoma known as mantle cell lymphoma (MCL). This type of lymphoma can be fast growing and is most commonly found in men older than 60.

He was referred to Appalanaidu Sasapu, M.D., a hematologist oncologist at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, who scheduled him for six rounds of chemotherapy to occur every 28 days. Sasapu also is an assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine in the UAMS College of Medicine.

“Dr. Sasapu was very clear and told us exactly what his course of action would be. He was confident that what he was prescribing would work for me, and he was right,” said Jerry.

In fact, after Jerry’s fifth round of chemo in October 2016, Sasapu gave the couple good news: The treatment was successful, and he did not need to receive the final round.

“I’m very happy with Mr. Moskwiak’s progress. He is a wonderful gentleman who always has a smile on his face, and his wife is a great caregiver for him,” Sasapu said.

Unfortunately, the good news was short lived when a follow-up scan revealed that Jerry was now facing another challenge: His lung cancer had reappeared after 25 years.

“The first time Jerry was diagnosed, he had surgery to remove the upper lobe of his right lung. This time the spot was in the lower lobe of his left lung, and he wasn’t a candidate for surgery due to his other health concerns,” Sharon said.

After an unsuccessful attempt to freeze the tumor with cold gases in a process called cryoablation, Jerry began a course of radiation therapy under the direction of Sanjay Maraboyina, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology in the UAMS College of Medicine.

“Just like Dr. Sasapu, Dr. Maraboyina had a very positive attitude and prescribed an aggressive treatment plan. They both kept the ball rolling in the right direction,” Jerry said.

Maraboyina recommended a highly precise treatment known as stereotactic body radiotherapy at the UAMS Radiation Oncology Center targeting the spot on his lung. This was again good news as only three treatments were required instead of a daily course over several weeks.

“Dr. Maraboyina was a godsend. The care I have received has been exceptional,” Jerry said.

Although both cancers are now in remission, Sasapu recommended Jerry undergo maintenance therapy with the immunotherapy drug Rituxan every two months for two years to keep the lymphoma at bay. With about one year left on that regimen, he is proud to say he feels great. “I’m more than happy with this outcome,” Jerry said.