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Man's Metastatic Prostate Cancer in Remission After Intense Treatment

Once again, Dale Holcomb found himself in the driver’s seat of his parked car, beating on the steering wheel with both fists, screaming at the top of his lungs.

The first time was when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, at a hospital near his home in CITY.  The second time was a few years later, frustrated that after undergoing a prostatectomy and debilitating radiation treatment, his cancer had returned.

“It was rather disheartening to know the cancer was back,” says Dale, age 52. “And then, to have gotten such a callous response (to my concerns) from the doctor, I knew it was time to find a new one.”

That new doctor was Cleveland Clinic medical oncologist Timothy Gilligan, MD, who specializes in cancers of the testicles, bladder, prostate and kidneys. Fortunately for Dale, Dr. Gilligan was previously the co-director of Cleveland Clinic Center for Excellence in Healthcare Communication, and he coaches fellow caregivers in the art of effective communication through the R.E.D.E. to Communicate® program.

“When you go to a doctor, you expect them to make you feel like the most important person in their practice, and I can't say that I ever felt that way until I got to Cleveland Clinic and had my first appointment with Dr. Gilligan,” explains Dale.

Dr. Gilligan coaches fellow caregivers in the art of effective communication. (Courtesy: CNN's brand studio)
Dr. Gilligan coaches fellow caregivers in the art of effective communication. (Courtesy: CNN's brand studio)

According to Dr. Gilligan, relationship-centered communication should be an area of focus for all healthcare practitioners, especially those whose patients face life-threatening challenges.

“Oftentimes, in modern medicine, we really zoom in on the details of the disease, rather than the details of the person,” he says. “As an oncologist, I feel like one of our specialties must be difficult conversations with patients. If we listen to them and respect their own intelligence and opinions, we often come up with better solutions together.”  

Dr. Gilligan patiently listened to Dale’s story during that first meeting. He learned Dale had wanted to undergo radiation therapy earlier in his previous treatment but was discouraged from doing so. Dr. Gilligan and Dale jointly decided on an aggressive form of treatment to battle the recurrence of the cancer. Following a rigorous treatment regimen of WHAT? NEED BASIC DETAILS, Dale has been rid of his metastatic cancer for four years. 

“Dr. Gilligan has changed my life for the better. It feels like I'm finally winning the battle,” says Dale, who regularly returns to Cleveland Clinic for follow-up testing and monitoring of his health. “He helped me understand how serious metastatic cancer is and what we needed to do to fight it.”

Dale and his wife talk to oncologist Timothy Gilligan, MD, during a follow-up appointment. (Courtesty: CNN's brand studio)
Dale and his wife talk to Dr. Gilligan during a follow-up appointment. (Courtesy: CNN's brand studio)

“How we make patients feel seen and valued through our language is a skill that is too-often overlooked in the field of medicine,” says Adrienne Boissy, MD. As Cleveland Clinic’s Chief Experience Officer, Dr. Boissy oversees initiatives designed to reduce suffering and improve the patient experience across the entire organization.

“There’s a quote that ‘the secret to patient care is caring for the patient,’ and it’s a sentiment that connects us beautifully to our origin,” states Dr. Boissy. “That’s where we started 100 years ago, and we're still driving that same patient-centered promise: that we will keep you safe, we will care for you as a person, and we'll be with you every step of the way.”

Dale is grateful his cancer is in remission, giving him the ability to treasure time spent with his family and embarking on new pursuits, such as learning to play guitar.

Also important to him is that, as a patient, he feels valued and respected by everyone he meets at Cleveland Clinic, “I just feel a lot more cared for here. Dr. Gilligan made it really apparent, right from the beginning, that I was just as important to him as if I were a family member.”

Dale’s story is featured in “A Space for Empathy,” an episode of a five-part docuseries celebrating Cleveland Clinic’s Centennial  produced in collaboration with CNN’s brand studio.

Related Institutes: Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center
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