by JULIE MAGLIO
HERNANDO SUN WRITER
You may recall that last Friday afternoon, some bad weather came through our area. Fortunately, the winds died down and the doctors of Florida Cancer Specialists in Brooksville were able to serve up a special dinner for patients and their family members. Approximately 500 people attended the Florida Cancer Specialists’ 5th Annual Patient Appreciation BBQ. Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ tight end Alan Cross, two Bucs cheerleaders and ‘Captain Fear,’ the Bucs mascot were also in attendance.
Dr. Malhotra, medical oncologist, explained that they weren’t sure the event was going to happen earlier in the afternoon, when some wind took down part of one tent. Fortunately nobody was hurt, the storm dissipated and they reinforced the tent to be on the safe side.
Dr. Malhotra serves on the Executive Board of Florida Cancer Specialists.
He thanked staff members for all their help organizing the event and working tirelessly on the part of their patients. “I’ve said this before, oncology is a team sport and one person cannot do it. I wish to thank all of my partners, my wonderful team of medical and radiation oncologists, our nurses, our pharmacy techs, lab techs... everybody.”
“I am absolutely gratified for the love and support that comes back from each and every one of you,” he remarked to the gathering of patients and their families.
Rounds of cheers and applause broke out as Dr. Malhotra introduced each physician: Dr. Ayman Barakat, Dr. Sawsan Bishay, Dr. Tom Tang, Dr. Mary Li, Dr. Larry Gandle and Dr. Shilen Patel.
Dr. Bishay remarked, “Thank you all for coming out tonight despite the bad weather. We love you all. We love our patients. We love to serve them. We love to spend time with them.”
Dr. Barakat said to the crowd, “We’ll always treat you like our family and we’ll do our best to make you better and we’ll fight with you all the time.”
Dr. Patel stated, “I’m completely humbled every year at this event. It’s really inspirational to see you all here.”
Dr. Malhotra told me a little bit about what this particular celebration signifies.
“It’s a very small gesture on our part, but it means so much to the patients. I want them to see the human side of everybody. Inside we’re clinical and methodical, here we can be a little more relaxed and just sit and chat. The community support has been so tremendous.”
He explained that the event started out with about 100 patients in its first year and has grown to now approximately 500 people. They donate the extra food to homeless shelters. The feast is catered by Sonny’s BBQ.
In regard to the patients, Dr. Malhotra expressed with gravity, “They go through a life threatening illness and in that moment they are so broken in a way. They are looking for hope and I think we are able to give them that- real hope, not false hope. Granted we cannot save every one of our patients, but I’m very proud of our team that they give 100% and the very best that can be done is done. ”
"Thankfully our results are improving all the time,” he continued. “This last year has been a phenomenal year with immunotherapy. We have patients here today who most certainly would not be here without immunotherapy.”
He said like with many treatments, immunotherapy doesn’t work with everybody but it’s been a “significant, significant step forward.”
Dr. Malhotra stated that the success they are seeing with immunotherapy is through Florida Cancer Specialists’ participation in clinical trials.
“We are one of the biggest enrollers of clinical trials in the country outside of academic settings,” stated Dr. Malhotra.
“That’s how we find out what treatments work. We were a big part of the immunotherapy trials when they were getting tested and thankfully they bore fruit,” he explained.
“When I finished my training, nearly 18,19 years ago none of this was even on the horizon.”
Dr. Malhotra remarked that seeing the field move forward and treatments improve is what keeps them going.
“Immunotherapy has been a huge success- melanomas, lung cancers, gastric cancers, liver cancers, kidney cancers. There at least ten or eleven approved indications.”
Dr. Malhotra communicated that another major part of their efforts is the compassion the staff has for their patients.
“If you look at our employees, they genuinely feel for the patients. They want to do right for them and that shows. That is the key part. That’s where the difference comes in,” Dr. Malhotra said.
Dr. Gandle drove from Tampa in the middle of the storm to be at the event. That is surely dedication and compassion.