Treated like family
A brief smile edged its away across Lois Martin’s face as she clasped tightly onto her doctor’s hand.
Her son, Tommy Martin, stood beside her while offering a trusting gaze toward Evan Reiter, M.D., an otolaryngologist at VCU Massey Cancer Center who has been looking after Lois for the past 16 years.
It was not the typical scene one might imagine of a routine medical visit, but for the Martins, and many others treated regularly at Massey, being treated like the hospital’s family has become customary.
“I thank God every day that we were sent to Massey because we had no idea where to go or who to turn to,” Tommy reflected.
By the time his mother was first diagnosed with squamous cancer of her right maxillary sinus back in 1999, the disease had already advanced to stage 4. It wasn’t until Lois began having repeated nosebleeds that she went to see a doctor, and by that point, the tumor in her sinus cavity had spread down through her nose and sinuses and into her lymph nodes.
“It was totally devastating. I’d dealt with my father having diabetes and everything else, but I had never dealt with anything like this,” Tommy said. “We just didn’t know what to do.”
After being first diagnosed with cancer by an ear, nose and throat specialist in South Hill, Va., Lois was referred to Dr. Reiter at Massey, one of only two cancer centers in Virginia designated by the National Cancer Institute.
Reiter determined she needed surgery to remove the cancer as soon as possible. The procedure, performed by Reiter at Massey, included the removal of most of her right cheekbone and the lymph nodes in the right side of her neck. She also underwent a tracheostomy and had a dental plate made.
Lois required additional revision surgery due to issues encountered in the healing process. After recovering from surgery, she underwent radiation therapy for a period of six weeks. Since completing surgery and radiation in 1999, there has been no evidence of the cancer returning in any form.
Unfortunately, Lois passed away in December at the age of 82 after struggling with pulmonary complications. Thankfully, it was a long distance down the road from the late stage cancer that threatened her livelihood over 15 years ago. And from that time until after his mother’s passing, Tommy said that he never once considered taking his mother to any other cancer care provider despite the approximate four-hour travel time round trip. He was that pleased by the personal care and attention continually received from Reiter, the nursing staff, medical students and other faculty at VCU.
From medical residents going out of the way to check up on them to personal calls from Reiter about Lois’ health, Tommy said they did not have a single complaint about the services received since day one.
For that, Tommy shares his mother’s personal experience in hopes of spreading the word to others who might be similarly diagnosed and searching desperately for answers.
“People need to know that there is a place they can go where they will be taken care of, that they mean more than a number, that they do have a hospital that cares,” Tommy said. “I was hoping that maybe someone diagnosed with what my mother had or the stage that it was in, that somebody would say there is hope… If they don’t have hope and the will to strive, there’s nothing you can do.”
For Reiter, he said that with any patient he sees regularly over a lengthy period of time, it’s difficult not to develop a personal bond with them.
“You definitely want to treat them as you would want your own family treated,” he said.
Reiter feels a sense of pride in the Massey and VCU Health community when he hears the commitment and positive response of patients like Lois Martin. He is quick to turn the focus off of himself, but to a collective body of medical professionals dedicated to performing at a high level in making a health care system successful.
“The bricks and mortar and the high-tech devices and treatments are important, but you cannot deliver excellent care without caring and dedicated people,” Reiter said.
Reiter believes that it is this person-to-patient excellence coupled with advanced therapies and technology that allow Massey to offer the best in all aspects of cancer care.
“And, fortunately, in Mrs. Martin’s case, the treatment we had available was enough to cure her, even her advanced cancer,” Reiter said.