Esther F. – Breast Cancer and Bone Cancer
Laughter & Longevity: A Refreshing Approach to the Challenge of Cancer
Not everyone can laugh in the face of cancer, but Esther Kirchner Flick is not everyone. She's a positive thinker and a free spirit who has been living with cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and recurring pneumonia for more than 20 years—but she can find the humor in any situation, and her laughter is infectious. She's also 90 years old, with more energy than some people half her age.
When Esther was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994 after a right breast mastectomy, she went to see Robert Volkin, MD, who practices at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Medical Oncology, Upper St. Clair. After learning about the various treatments available, Esther opted out of radiation and chemotherapy in favor of tamoxifen. Tamoxifen therapy was still a relatively new approach to treating breast cancer at that time, but Esther was not interested in doing things the old way. She appreciated having a choice.
“I really think one of the most important things patients must do is investigate their options,” says Esther. “Find out what choices you can make and how those choices will affect your everyday activities. Dr. Volkin is an excellent doctor; my options were some of the first things we talked about.”
Her initial course of treatment went well. After her cancer was under control, she did not maintain her yearly check-ups. She was admitted to the hospital in 2009 with pneumonia, and chest x-rays revealed the presence of cancer, this time in her bones.
Esther and her doctors focused first on resolving her pneumonia,and then, she met again with Dr. Volkin. “Having that continuity was very important,” says Esther. “Even after all those years, they still had my records and knew my entire history.”
The cancer spread quickly, from her bones to her lymph nodes and then to her skin. When her care team remarked that she didn't seem very concerned, she agreed. “I told them that worrying about cancer wasn't going to help and that I could just as easily walk out of the office and be hit by a bus,” says Esther, laughing. “And then,believe it or not,I walked out of there and ended up in a car accident. They didn't believe me when I told them later.” The story was true, though. Luckily, she recovered well from her injuries.
Through it all, Esther has kept her optimism and sense of humor. “I saw a young man of about 40 at Dr. Volkin's office, very depressed,” Esther says. “I told him that he would be fine, that I'd been seeing Dr. Volkin for my cancer for 21 years. He was astonished and said, 'You're still alive?' So I told him, 'I was when I woke up this morning, yes.'”