Gratefully, cancer patient finally rings bell

“If kindness and goodness were electricity, Dr. Graziano would light up the world.” 

Such were the words on the ‘thank you’ note written by Roland Woolridge of Phoenix, NY, to Upstate oncologist Dr. Stephen Graziano, as part of the Upstate Foundation’s annual Doctors’ Day observance earlier this year. Intrigued by this sentiment, a Foundation development officer telephoned the Woolridge residence and spoke with Roland’s wife Elaine to learn more about the 75-year-old man’s battle with cancer and the care he’d received at the Upstate Cancer Center.

“The first time my husband met Dr. Graziano was in 2006, when Roland had a lymphoma on the optic nerve in his left eye,” said Woolridge. “Radiation only partially removed the cancer. Roland also required surgery, after which he had 39 stitches from ear-to-ear over the top of his head. Unfortunately, he lost vision in that eye.”

Fast forward 13 years to January 2019. After feeling fatigue, aches and “a wicked pain” in his left shoulder – his general practitioner at first suspected a stubborn virus – Roland’s history with cancer triggered a Positron Emission Topography (PET) scan, which determined cancer was back in force. This time, B-cell lymphoma was evident in his blood and bones.

When six rounds of radiation yielded only modest results, Dr. Graziano suggested adding an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy. With Dr. Graziano’s candid but compassionate guidance, Roland and Elaine made the difficult decision to push ahead. It was a decision that Roland questioned and began regretting after the treatment “was becoming worse than the disease.”

After nearly ending chemotherapy following his fifth treatment, Roland completed his sixth and final round – celebrating with the traditional ceremony in which patients ring a bell while surrounded by their Upstate cancer care team. 

“When Roland rang that bell, he did it with such force I thought he would tear it off the wall!” exclaimed Elaine. “Everyone clapped and smiled, and gave hugs. They were beaming with delight over Roland’s accomplishment. They made us feel like a person and not a number.”

Now in remission, as confirmed by another PET scan, Roland is glad he opted to fight. He and Elaine are participating in the “Live Strong” program at their local YMCA, which has helped Roland recover his strength and gain 25 pounds of the 60 he lost during treatment. And Roland is looking forward to the years yet ahead.

“You and your team hold a special place in my heart,” wrote Roland in his Doctors’ Day note card. “You brought comfort when there was uncertainty. You gave me my life back.”


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