Editor’s note: Last March, Hamilton Post senior community editor Rob Anthes wrote a cover feature about Hamilton resident Joe Caruso, a then-33-year old suffering from an inoperable brain tumor. The tumor, which was found by doctors in October 2011, was the second of its kind for Caruso. He had surgery in 2006 to remove the first tumor, and had been seeing doctors ever since to monitor his health. At the time of the story, Caruso and his wife Olivia also had just opened their own business in Allentown: a joint physical therapy-nutrition clinic that joined the couple’s professions under one roof.
A year later, Olivia Caruso reached out to the Post with an update of how her and her family’s life has changed since the feature ran. Her words follow:
Where to begin?
The past year has had its ups and downs. It has been a rough year from a medical stand point, but it has been an amazing year for our new clinic, Caruso Physical Therapy and Nutrition, LLC. (We offer physical therapy and nutrition services. Joe is the physical therapist. I am the registered dietitian.)
The business has grown tremendously, and it has done wonders for us. The business is what got us through the medical challenges. Who would have thought that battling cancer and going through chemotherapy while opening our own practice would have been the best thing we could have done?
The practice’s one-year anniversary is Feb. 13, and we’re going to celebrate with an open house Friday, Feb. 22 from 5-7 p.m. We hope to personally thank everyone that has been a part of this journey with us.
We are extremely busy at the clinic. We wrote a business plan before we opened, and we have surpassed every goal. Thanks to our patients we have grown so much that we are looking for another physical therapist to join our clinic. We have a per diem physical therapist, Richard Roscoe, who covers for Joe when we have to go out of state for treatment. We now have three wonderful aides, Andreanna, Michelle and my mother, Kathleen. And we just hired a medical receptionist who seems like she will fit right in.
Our patients are the best. They have given us the strength to keep fighting. Our patients and business have helped us through, both by helping take the focus off of Joe’s cancer and through their love and support.
Our goal was always to make our clinic feel like home. Our patients have helped us accomplish this. It really is indescribable and such a wonderful thing. Plus, it helps us feel good that we are helping our patients. Every aspect of our clinic—the patients and staff—gives us strength. We feel at home when we are at Caruso Physical Therapy and Nutrition. We even have our own family members working with us, and our 2-year-old daughter, Noiella Ann, frequently visits.
Joe is working like crazy; he is not working any less than he always has. He works 60 hours during the week, and then just rests a lot on weekends.
It has been a trying year for him. Joe was in a study at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. (Joe had been seeing doctors at Thomas Jefferson since this all started in 2006.) The chemotherapy was not having an effect on Joe’s tumor. It continued to grow, and it got to the point it was growing even more aggressively than before treatment.
By the time Joe was getting ready to start his 8th cycle of chemo—which means he finished 7 months of chemo and was getting ready to start his 8th month—we had a follow up with his doctors at Thomas Jefferson. At this follow-up, we asked his doctor if he would do anything different. The tumor had not stopped growing, and it was getting even worse.
The doctor said we couldn’t change course. Since Joe was in a study, he had to finish out the year in the study. Joe and I left the meeting devastated.
Joe is 34—too young to be told there was nothing else that could be done for him. After much research, we determined that Duke University in North Carolina had the best options for treating brain cancer. I contacted Duke and asked for a second opinion. My main goal was to find out if they felt they could do something different to get Joe’s tumor to stop growing.
After receiving all of Joe’s medical history, they immediately called me back and said they would do something different. So, we switched our care to Duke immediately. Our new treatment plan is a metronomic daily dose of a type of chemotherapy called Temodar. Joe receives the drug every single day, as well as an IV infusion of Avastin every two weeks at Cancer Institute of New Jersey in Hamilton.
Every eight weeks, we have a MRI of Joe’s brain done here and then fly down to Duke to meet Joe’s new oncologist. We recently went for our first follow-up at Duke after his first eight weeks of new treatment, and they actually saw some regression in part of the tumor that is towards his frontal lobe.
Still, the doctors at Duke said they feel as though the tumor had progressed to grade III or grade IV in the past year. A grade IV tumor comes with a worse prognosis than what Joe had a year ago.
His treatment will most likely be indefinite at this point. They said if he responds well to this new treatment plan then they will continue same treatment for a year. At the end of the year, they will then do a PET scan to determine how much cancer is still in there, and make a new plan based on the results.
With the help of our practice, our patients, our family, our friends and staying positive, we have been able to fight this cancer and make our practice thrive.
I have related going through cancer to a saying about raising a child—it takes a village to make it through the trials cancer presents. Our family and friends have continued to help us tremendously. We wouldn’t be able to fight this cancer and build this amazing clinic without them.
Caruso Physical Therapy and Nutrition is located at 1278 Yardville-Allentown Road. For more information, go online to carusoptrd.com or call (609) 738-3143.