René Lambert (UM UCMC)

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Rene Lambert and Mary

René Lambert with his wife, Mary

Ringing a bell to commemorate the end of active cancer treatment and the beginning of a life free of the disease is an experience that a cancer survivor never forgets. In René Lambert’s case, the moment was even more significant because he was the very first person to do so in the Patricia D. and M. Scot Kaufman Cancer Center in Bel Air, just a short distance from his home in Havre de Grace.

When he went to his family doctor in March 2013 for shortness of breath and lethargy, René, 84, wasn’t expecting to find out that he had a large mass in his right lung. “[Pulmonologist] Dr. [Khalid] Puthawala called me soon after my CT scan and said there is a multidisciplinary clinic to which he’d like to submit my case,” René says. “I told him, ‘Anything to help!’ ”

Through the new affiliation between the Kaufman Cancer Center and the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center (UMGCC), a multidisciplinary team from UMGCC and University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health decided that radiation was René’s best course of treatment. Multidisciplinary care for cancer means our specialists (including pathologists, radiologists, medical oncologists, nurse navigators, social workers, spiritual caregivers and plastic surgeons) work together to provide an individual with a seamless transition — everything from consultation, biopsy, diagnosis and treatment to symptom management and other needed support.

Partnership Pays Off

The drawback for René and his wife of 58 years, Mary, however, was the long and stressful commute that was ahead of them, especially since treatment was scheduled five days a week for four weeks at the downtown Baltimore campus.

From his beautiful centuries-old Victorian home, René recalls telling Navesh Sharma, DO, PhD, medical director of radiation oncology at the Kaufman Cancer Center and an assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, “I am not going to drive to Baltimore. It’s that simple.”

Luckily, the Lamberts didn’t have to drive themselves the nearly 45 miles to downtown Baltimore. Its partnership with UMGCC allows UM UCH to provide cancer patients free transportation to and from the two campuses during the span of treatment.

“The word cancer is scary,” René says. “But the treatments were nothing, really — at least for me. Mary and I agreed after the first few days of radiation that the worst part of the whole thing was the travel back and forth.”

After more than three weeks of treatment, Dr. Sharma asked Rene if he would like to finish his final two radiation sessions at the Kaufman Cancer Center, which was officially opening just days later. Looking forward to the shorter, easier commute, Rene enthusiastically replied, “Let’s go right now!”

A Happy Outcome

On Oct. 2, René met with Dr. Sharma for his final radiation treatment, with Mary by his side. The obvious love between the husband and wife is reinforced when René says, “I couldn’t have done this without her.”

René also gives repeated thanks to Dr. Sharma, whom he says he liked from day one. “There is just something about him. He very nicely laid everything out on the table regarding my case, but he also didn’t beat around the bush. I appreciated that.”

Similarly, the entire radiation oncology team behind Dr. Sharma was impressive and congenial. They are directed by a highly trained group of experts from the University of Maryland Department of Radiation Oncology, who helped to develop the radiation technologies used. These technologies enable them to handle even the most complex cases.

When René took hold of the bell and rang it, he was overwhelmed with happiness and relief. Mary says that “it was a touching and emotional moment for both of us.”

Today, René and Mary focus on spending time together, reading, relaxing, tending to the endless chores that go along with owning such a large, historic home, and going out to different local restaurants for dinner — one of their favorite hobbies.