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Published on January 30, 2017

From China to Falmouth for quality cancer careFrom China to Falmouth for quality cancer care

Tom Gorton literally travels from one end of the earth to the other to get the healthcare he knows is best for him.

He takes three airplane flights over a day and half to get from his home in Nanning, China, to his former hometown of Falmouth for check-ups with Clark Cancer Center radiation oncologist Basia McAnaw, MD. Dr. McAnaw treated his aggressive stage IV head cancer in 2014.

“My level of comfort here over the years is 150 percent,” Gorton said.

Doctors in China discovered a tumor on his tongue two years ago. He came back to the Cape because he had been treated at Cape Cod Hospital’s Davenport-Mugar Cancer Center for persistent prostate cancer in 2000, and knew he would be in good hands again. Cape Cod Healthcare opened Clark Cancer Center opened in 2011, and Gorton now receives his care there.

“When I was diagnosed in China, I was on an airplane to Boston a week later,” he said. “I was never really scared about it. I was worried and concerned, but the healthcare I’ve had here filled me with extreme confidence, so maybe that’s why.”

Gorton, 66, began radiation and chemotherapy treatments on March 27, 2014, and it continued for three months. His medical oncologist is Victor Aviles, MD of Falmouth. The tumor is now gone and he is checked every three months in China, and continues to come back every year for a check-up with Dr. McAnaw.

“What’s so amazing about Tom is that he wanted to be home with his family in China, so he went home right after his radiation treatment. For most people, the weeks after (treatment) are even harder,” she said.

Gorton admits he was quite sick after he returned to Nanking, where he lives with his wife, Meizhu.

“I arrived home at the end of June and had nausea and fatigue that lasted through July and August. But by the second week in September, it got better very fast and I have felt terrific ever since,’ he said. “It was like a re-emergence into life.”

A Deep Appreciation

Gorton’s treatment consisted of a technique known as External Bean IMRT, whereby the radiation was targeted precisely to the tumor on his tongue and the nearby lymph nodes. The dosage is delivered from multiple directions, ensuring maximum coverage and protection of normal tissues, according to Dr. McAnaw.

“We try to use the safest, highest dose possible,” she said. “It’s a balancing act.”

Gorton said he was comfortable with the risks.

“It was explained to me very clearly, and I knew everything going into it,” he said.

Although Gorton has a stiff neck and temporarily lost the taste buds on his tongue, as a result of the radiation, he is fortunate that he had cancer today, when treatment is so much better, said Dr. McAnaw.

“Most people (with his stage and type of cancer), 25 years ago, would have died,” she said.

Still, even today in many places, the treatment for Gorton’s tumor consists of removing the tongue and side of the neck, leaving patients unable to talk or eat without the aid of a tube, she added.

Nine years ago, Dr. McAnaw and other radiation oncologists at Cape Cod Healthcare reviewed their own data, and learned that they could spare patients’ tongues and neck area and still have a high success rate. While still not perfect, it does a much better job of preserving patients’ quality of life, Dr. McAnaw said.

“My cancer was good it arrived when it did, and I’m glad I had the doctors I did,” Gorton said. “You need to look at it as a good experience; that I was the recipient of somebody’s hard work, education and skills.”

With six grandchildren in his life, Gorton said he is grateful to the doctors, technicians, nurses and other medical personnel who treated him.

“I have a deep appreciation that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life,” he said. “I had stage IV cancer, but, because of quality care, I beat it.”