Hill doctor survives cancer while treating cancer patients

Dr. Anthony Perre, a Chestnut Hill native, not only overcame cancer but is now running marathons with his wife, Stacy.

Dr. Anthony Perre, a Chestnut Hill native, grew up playing softball and baseball at the Water Tower Recreation Center. As a teenager he worked at Auritt’s Sporting Goods store located just “a couple doors down from the cheese shop.”

“My uncle was Tony Maletta, who was a figure in Chestnut Hill,” he said. “It was kind of ingrained in me that coaching was a great thing to do with your kids.”

In 2007, Perre, then 38, decided to close his internal medicine practice in Doylestown after he was recruited by Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia to run their hospitals’ program. This way he could spend more time with his three young children.

“Ironically, three weeks before I was supposed to start my job at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia, I felt a lymph node above my collarbone, and it kind of set the wheels into motion,” said Perre, who graduated from Our Mother of Consolation Elementary School and Bishop McDevitt High School. “Within days, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma and began receiving chemotherapy and radiation.”

Dr. Perre had just started working at the cancer hospital when he began receiving treatment himself. “During that time, there was a young woman who had the same type of cancer I had — Hodgkin Lymphoma,” he said. “We became bonded by that experience because our chemotherapies were on the same day.

“Anyone who receives a diagnosis of cancer faces the stark truth, which is the uncertainty of the future. That part is the most anxiety provoking of all, but I think you realize through your faith and people you love that you have a support system you can lean on. I was fortunate to have a wonderful wife and family that was able to support me and make meals for me.”

According to cancer.gov, in 2016 there were an estimated 15.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S., or about 5 percent of the U.S. population. The number of cancer survivors is expected to increase to 20.3 million by 2026. Deborah K. Mayer, Interim Director of National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Survivorship, said that NCI established the Office of Cancer Survivorship in 1996 “in recognition that many people were surviving cancer for long periods of time, and they had unique needs that were not widely understood or managed.”

Survivorship care plans were recommended in the 2005 Institute of Medicine’s Report, “From Cancer Patient to Survivor: Lost in Transition.” Unfortunately, Dr. Perre, Chief of Outpatient Medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia (CTCA), knows first-hand that there is no “back to normal life” after a cancer diagnosis. He talked about making the transition from “cancer patient to cancer survivor” and the importance of having a survivorship care plan.

“You are done your cancer treatment, and your medical oncologist can address issues relating to your cancer,” he said, “but what about the rest of your life and the consequences of treatment?”

Dr. Perre said it is important to have “an open channel of communication” with not only your oncologist, but also your primary doctor. He said many cancer survivors have anxiety about recurrence, and some even have “survivor’s guilt,” fatigue or cognitive impairment.

Perre, now 50, talked about his own experience with anxiety. He said he would get “unbelievably anxious” every three to six months right before a PET scan, during the scan and while waiting for results that would indicate if treatment worked.

“I sought out a health coach, whom I met on a weekly basis for about three months,” he said. “They were able to treat me and provide me with tools to help with my anxiety, especially around the time of the tests. Having cancer has changed me and in some ways in a good way. My kids and I spoke about running into the ocean when it was 20 degrees outside, and we did that!”

In addition to activities like the Polar Plunge, Perre and his wife, Stacy, run marathons together. It’s very common to suffer from severe to mild fatigue not only while receiving treatment for cancer but after treatment as well. He said thankfully the fatigue he experienced while undergoing treatment for his cancer “wasn’t terrible.”

He said that one of the best ways to treat fatigue is by remaining active. “When I was diagnosed with cancer, my wife started to run to reduce stress. When I was finished going through treatment, I realized that running would help me physically and mentally. On the first day my wife took me out running, I probably ran about 100 feet and said ‘Stop,’ but I stuck to it. And after my wife ran her first marathon, I thought maybe I should do it myself.”

He decided to sign up with Team in Train to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. “The most difficult part of running the marathon is the physical toll that it took on my body. I certainly hit the wall at mile 20 and realized that there is huge a difference between running half a marathon and 26.2 miles. At mile 20, my legs were twitching, and I was feeling the pain. But there was no way in hell I was stopping, and I think that is the message for people who are dealing with cancer, too. You have to persevere. Sometimes you don’t realize what you are capable of, but when you put your mind to it and get the support that you need from the people who love you, you are able to accomplish amazing feats.”

For more information, visit www.cancercenter.com