Employee's story shows how Penn State Hershey makes cancer care better

Kurt Holtzer never had a problem racing up multiple flights of stairs to respond to code calls for his job at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. But when he couldn’t climb a single flight without doubling over to catch his breath in May 2012, he knew something was wrong.

After an initial diagnosis of asthma, and a battery of tests that lasted several weeks, he was diagnosed with myelogenous leukemia and myelofibrosis, as well as a genetic mutation putting him in a high-risk category for survival. Without treatment, doctors gave him three months to live.

“I had recently lost my mother to lung cancer,” he said. “Having seen how my mother dealt with the chemo(therapy) regimen, I didn’t want to go through that.” Because of his wife, Julie, and two children, he decided to do it: “I wasn’t ready to let go of her and the kids.”

So, on Memorial Day of last year, the life he had known ceased to exist. He fought fear, worry and trepidation during nine rounds of chemotherapy, nine bone marrow biopsies and a stem cell transplant.

Holtzer’s cancer went into remission this spring, and he is back at work as a supervisor for the medical center’s biomedical team.

During grand opening ceremonies for the new inpatient adult cancer unit in September, Holtzer was the first to ring a bell mounted on the wall of the seventh-floor rotunda that symbolizes a milestone in the journey that cancer patients travel: “Ring this bell. Three times well. It’s toll to clearly say. My treatment’s done. This course is run. And I am on my way!”

Read more about Holtzer’s journey – and the new inpatient unit – on the Penn State Medicine blog.

Last Updated November 21, 2013