Mike Twist has had his fair share of doctor visits. The 62-year-old former smoker has experienced quite a few health scares, surgeries, and nine days of being in a coma. So when his pulmonologist was unsure of findings at a regular follow-up visit, Mike was sent to New York Cancer & Blood Specialists (NYCBS), where the gift of gab would be one of the foundational secrets to his success.
“I’ve been lucky, and the doctors that I find have great senses of humor and personalities. Sometimes I talk a lot, and we connect,” Mike said.
Mike remembers meeting NYCBS oncologist, Dr. David Chu, for the first time. Dr. Chu told him why he got into the profession due to his personal history of losing his grandmother and how embedded he was in helping patients with cancer. He didn't want another family to go through what he did. To that end, Mike said to himself, “I like this guy,” and instantly, they formed a deep personal relationship.
Diagnosed with advanced-stage lung cancer, Dr. Chu referred him to a thoracic surgeon, but he was not a surgical candidate, given the tumor’s location. So, Dr. Chu instructed Mike to undergo six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, where he met chemo infusion nurses Laura and Jaime. And once again, he connected with them. “Their loving, caring nature set me at ease. They were abundantly professional,” he recalls.
When Laura met Mike, he came in for his first chemotherapy treatment and immediately made her laugh. She could tell he was nervous, so she tried to do whatever she could to make him feel more comfortable. They talked about their lives, families and tried to see who could make the other laugh the most. They would fist bump whenever they saw each other, and even if he were not her patient that day, she would make sure she took the time to chat with him. His positive attitude and his great sense of humor won her over right away.
Jaime also recalls the instant connection. “He's a jokester with a contagious laugh, and he's not shy,” she said. “I remember the day of his last treatment, I was his nurse, and I happened to bake cookies for the infusion staff. Laura walked right up to him and said, "You HAVE to have one of her cookies." Mike proceeded to rub his stomach and say, "Well, bring it on over. I never say no to a cookie." He wound up having three!
After experiencing multiple surgeries, coma, and now cancer, Mike takes notice of the meaning of his relationships with family and friends, like Dr. Chu, Laura, and Jaime. He believes there are no coincidences in life but rather a reason for everyone you meet. Mike was acutely aware of the difference in the care he received from NYCBS. Previous places treated him poorly. “NYCBS treated me like a human being instead of a burden,” he expressed.
Mike’s wife had been a cancer patient at an academic medical center, where they treated her with an attitude of indifference. Her treatments began while he was in a coma. “She was fighting cancer trying to save her own life while trying to keep me alive,” he said. “My life is a testament to my wife and the folks who have touched me like Dr. Chu, Laura, and Jaime.”
Mike’s gift of gab has turned strangers into acquaintances and acquaintances into friends and family, which he now considers NYCBS. His relationship with his care team has extended outside of the exam room.
Mike is a LA Fitness member, where he takes advantage of the water aerobics class and swimming pool. One day he talked to Dr. Chu about his fitness regimen, and Dr. Chu informed him that Laura, who is 33 weeks pregnant, also instructs a Zumba class there and that they should get Jaime in on a surprise visit.
The week it was planned for, Mike came to infusion, and as soon as Laura was out of earshot, he called Jaime over, gave her a fist bump, and said, "Are you excited for Sunday?"
On the Zumba class day, Jaime got Laura out of the room so Dr. Chu and Mike could get in there undetected. When they walked back in, they doubled over laughing. They saw Dr. Chu in a signature gym headband, and Mike had on a straw hat with chips and salsa in his hands. He asked everyone, “Is this the salsa class?” His wife came too to record it and meet everyone for the first time.
Mike laughed at the hilarity of the situation. “I'm 6’2, 325 pounds,” he said. “The women in the class had no idea why this clown was coming in wearing a cowboy hat, bandana, and sunglasses. It was awesome, and Laura was speechless.”
The bond between Mike and his care team isn’t something you can find at any cancer center. Still, it is the critical differentiator and care model of NYCBS: Treating patients like family and creating priceless moments to conquer cancer together.