Freehold Resident Finds Advanced Care for Pancreatic Cancer
"I couldn't think of a better place to be.”
For Monty Schwartz, 69, of Freehold, NJ, it all started with kidney stones, but within a couple weeks he was facing major surgery for pancreatic cancer. Months later, his biggest concern is his kidney stones again, thanks to Dr. Christopher Gannon, surgical oncologist, and his team at Capital Health Surgical Group, located at Capital Health Medical Center – Hopewell.
“My body produces kidney stones so I meet regularly with my urologist to stay on top of it. When he asked me to go for a routine CT scan, they found two large stones but they weren’t going anywhere. They also noticed a cyst or something abnormal on top of the pancreas,” Monty said.
He immediately made an appointment with his gastroenterologist (Dr. Steven Bohm) who suggested that Monty visit Dr. Jason Rogart, an interventional gastroenterologist and director of the Advanced Therapeutic Endoscopy Program at the Capital Health Center for Digestive Health, located at Capital Health Medical Center – Hopewell. The following week he had an appointment with Dr. Rogart for an endoscopic ultrasound. The next day Dr. Rogart called Monty to deliver the news that he had pancreatic cancer.
“I immediately asked him, ‘Are you sure you have the right Monty Schwartz,” he said.
Monty knew Dr. Rogart had the right person, but the news hit Monty harder than most. He had lost a family member to cancer two years ago. His son-in-law, and father to his only grandson, passed away after a two-year battle with brain cancer. As a highly active husband, father and grandfather, he immediately thought of his family, specifically his grandson.
“I wanted to be here as much I could be for him and that’s why I needed to get this taken care of immediately,” said Monty.
After speaking to Dr. Rogart, he was introduced to Dr. Christopher Gannon, a surgeon who specializes in cancers of the liver, bile ducts, and pancreas.
“I looked up his credentials and liked what I saw. When I met with him, he asked if I wanted to get another opinion, as patients normally do. I told him I didn’t need to go for another opinion. I was ready to do the surgery tomorrow,” Monty said.
While the surgery didn’t happen the next day, it did take place later that week. Monty is a former Wall Street trader, an avid tennis player and very determined to beat cancer.
“They used to have a saying on Wall Street, ‘You’re either in or you’re out.’ And that’s the way I go through life. There’s no in between. And that’s the way I approached this. I was going to be in and let the doctors and nurses do what they do best,” Monty said.
Dr. Gannon also offered him words that rang true with his mantra. “He said, ‘We do not treat pancreatic cancer, we remove it.’ And that just stayed in my mind because it was so definitive. I couldn’t think of a better place to be,” said Monty.
After surgery, Monty was in the hospital for four days before going home. “I had done my research and knew that the harder I worked and the faster I could prove that I was getting back to normal, they would let me go home. So I forced myself to get out of bed the next morning after surgery and started walking. Dr. Gannon nicknamed me ‘The Tank,’” Monty said.
Monty also thought the staff that he encountered during his treatment was top notch. “If I had to sum up my entire experience, I would say it was extraordinary,” Monty said. “There’s a great relationship that’s built between the physicians, the surgeon and the patient. It’s such an easy barrier to break down, how could you not have trust in anyone that’s involved in your care? And the staff was incredible. There’s nothing that they won’t do for their patients. ”
He was also impressed by the office technology, including the flat screen monitors in each room that are used by the surgeons to explain their procedures to patients.
Today, Monty only returns for his follow-up appointments every seven months. If his progress continues, this will reduce to once per year.
“It was such a heartfelt moment when Dr. Gannon handed me a pin from PANCAN [the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network] and he explained to me how fortunate I was and how few people come out of this in the shape that I did,” Monty said.
“The funny thing about this is that those two kidney stones are still there,” Monty said, adding that he’s due for his next CT scan soon.