A multidisciplinary approach to cancer care: Judy’s story

In March 2020, Judy Fine-Edelstein, MD, chief of Neurology at Cambridge Health Alliance, was working long hours caring for patients. Focused on her job, Judy dismissed her cough and aches as stress. When she could ignore her symptoms no longer, she got a blood test. The results were not good. Judy’s husband, Rob, brought her straight to the emergency room and from there, she immediately began treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Judy had cancer—acute myeloid leukemia to be precise. 

Judy and her dog, Norton.

“As a physician,” Judy recalls, “I went to all the research sites to look up AML, and I gave up. I called the family attorney to make my will.” 

That’s when Daniel DeAngelo, MD, PhD, chief of Dana-Farber’s Division of Leukemia, came into her life. “From the minute I met him, Dr. DeAngelo put me at ease. He answered all of my questions and encouraged me not to do my own research. He assured me I was in good hands,” Judy says. 

DeAngelo confirmed Judy’s diagnosis and relayed some unexpectedly good news. “Dr. DeAngelo said that I didn’t have any of the negative mutations associated with AML,” Judy recalls. “He was almost giddy because he thought I would have a good response from chemo and would not need a bone marrow transplant. I feel like I really lucked out.” 

Though Judy had a favorable prognosis, her first five weeks in the hospital were tough. She received aggressive, high-dose chemotherapy and had numerous complications. However, she says, “At every moment, my care team knew how I was feeling and what the plan was. Dr. DeAngelo visited me every day, and I always felt like he had my back.” 

After many months and several more rounds of treatment, Judy’s cancer went into remission. While this was exciting news, she was anxious. “I had been so focused on getting through treatment that, now that it was over, I was worried about the cancer coming back.” She relayed her feelings to her care team, and her nurse practitioner, Elizabeth Herrity, DNP, APRN, AGACNP, referred her to Dana-Farber’s Adult Social Work Program for counseling. 

Judy attends virtual talk therapy sessions with Kristy Katsetos, LICSW, who also referred her to Dana-Farber psychiatrist Halyna Vitagliano, MD, to address panic attacks and to Dana-Farber sleep specialist Eric Zhou, PhD, for help getting much-needed rest. 

“Kristy is a fantastic listener. She validates my feelings and helped me understand that the issues I’m facing—difficulty sleeping, mood changes, panicky feelings, concerns about returning to life and work—are all common parts of post-treatment relapse anxiety,” says Judy.  

Judy has also taken advantage of many other supportive care services at Dana-Farber. During her hospital stays, Judy spoke with a Dana-Farber nutritionist—who brought her foods that were more palatable and digestible for her limited appetite—and was visited by a Dana-Farber chaplain, who helped her connect more deeply to her faith. At home, Judy enjoys attending virtual music therapy and mindful meditation sessions through the Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies and Healthy Living.  

“Dana-Farber takes a multidisciplinary approach to care that really looks at the whole patient,” says Judy. “The expert medical and supportive care is just incredible.” 

Not only is Judy grateful for the exceptional care she has received, her family is, too. For her birthday this year, Judy’s sister Barbara created a Facebook fundraiser to benefit DeAngelo’s research, and, in lieu of wedding gifts, Judy’s son, Ben, and his wife, Rachel, created a Dana-Farber Giving Page and asked that friends and family donate to support DeAngelo’s work. The couple pledged to match donations up to $5,000 and have been overwhelmed with support, raising more than $14,000. Judy noted that some people even gave in multiples of 18—the number chai, which stands for “life” in Judaism—in celebration of the newlyweds and her own successful treatment. 

Judy (second from left) with her family at Ben and Rachel’s wedding. (Photo by: Berit Bizjak, Images by Berit)

“There’s a real sense that Dana-Farber provides superb care, and a feeling of pride and joy when people raise money for Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund,” Judy says. “When people feel that they or their loved one has received wonderful care, that giving has so much more meaning.” 

Judy says that her experience as a patient with a life-threatening illness will inform how she provides care to her own neurology patients going forward. “My Dana-Farber care team is my role model. I know how confident and comfortable I feel with them and I want my patients to have that same level of confidence in me, that same collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to their care, and that same validation I have felt.”