Health & Wellness

Head of Radiation Oncology at Overlook, Dr. Schwartz, Joins Ranks of Cancer Survivors

4913f1fef12db3832aca_5B4DCEA7-0362-4379-90B3-C256F656C825.jpeg
Ann Marie Bonassisa of Roselle Park listens intently to Dr. Schwartz describe his cancer journey. Credits: Barbara Rybolt
f7b6efe259e93cff0047_2F670217-E54A-4102-86ED-3AF32C467C0F.jpeg
Dr. Schwartz is surrounded by family after his talk. From left, front Zach Rosenberg, Laura Schwartz, Dr. Louis E. Schwartz, Dana Borger, back row, Brittany Rosenberg and Hanna Schwartz. Credits: Barbara Rybolt
4fb8fb7a7e5b0478cf5a_150DB454-19A7-4284-AE4E-3613C76F7C2C.jpeg
Ashok Kumar of New Providence has celebrated 11 birthdays since having been diagnosed with cancer Credits: Barbara Rybolt
08ed3cf3715dc087bb80_D1082DE7-94FE-49A3-B839-E096FCD31387.jpeg
Nicholas Meola of Summit has celebrated nine more birthdays since his diagnosis. Credits: Bobbie Peer
c96aa826983f1bf1bbbc_FE638E67-0D26-4284-BBDA-740323C9C9BE.jpeg
The Simon Center’s Donna Delicio opened the National Cancer Survivor's Day Celebration at Overlook Medical Center. Credits: Barbara Rybolt
6074cff163878e77e4c6_B131772B-3082-4148-BBFC-18350FE61857.jpeg
Dr. Louis Schwartz, chair of Radiation Oncology at Overlook Medical Center and medical director of the hospital’s CyberKnife Center, speaks to fellow cancer survivors. Credits: Barbara Rybolt
918f19ee1d799c9175d0_34215D8D-8F0B-4CC2-B009-88C942F81467.jpeg
Sally Barmakian of Morristown, was among the cancer survivors who celebrated an extra birthday. Credits: Barbara Rybolt
26de2395429d5e37ff9c_7E490247-0210-4711-96EA-AB8E40517348.jpeg
Frances DiCarlo of Martinsville, has been coming to the survivor celebrations for four years at Overlook Medical Center. Credits: Barbara Rybolt
876f2f3dda577848b4b8_D2175DDE-45EC-4608-B3E5-09A4709613DD.jpeg
Credits: Barbara Rybolt
43b1c0e6f3ad8168ea51_4B960184-9062-40D2-8FF5-AAA4BF7342CC.jpeg
Keynote speaker and AML Leukemia survivor Dr. Louis Schwartz hugs it out at the Reception and Celebration to Honor Cancer Survivorship on June 2, 2018, while Dr. Marc Mandel, right, watches. Credits: Barbara Rybolt
b7692c2364861d80b3c6_722E3041-B3A1-4D73-A5AB-E8E1FD49F566.jpeg
Dr. Schwartz places his card on the birthday timeline. Credits: Barbara Rybolt
afe37db746096995e3d7_A39A9C11-5F77-4654-B617-1AAF06E88AE9.jpeg
Marcia Haller and her friend James Colangelo, both of Cranford, came to the survivor celebration together. Credits: Barbara Rybolt
4913f1fef12db3832aca_5B4DCEA7-0362-4379-90B3-C256F656C825.jpeg

SUMMIT, NJ –  Anne Marie Bonassisa of Roselle Park was one of scores of cancer survivors who attended the Cancer Survivor Celebration at Overlook Medical Center on Saturday. It was her first such event. She was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer,  which had already spread to her spine, only four months ago. Still, Bonassisa counts as a survivor – anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer, of whatever type, is a survivor.

The gathering of survivors, held at Bouras Auditorium on June 2, celebrates National Cancer Survivor’s Day and is an annual tradition at the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Overlook Medical Center, but this year’s event was particularly special, even for regular attendees and staff.

The keynote speaker, Louis Schwartz, MD, had waged his own battle against cancer since the last celebration. Dr. Schwartz, who is chair of Radiation Oncology at Overlook Medical Center and medical director of the hospital’s CyberKnife Center, was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). He’s well-known among the many cancer survivors who attend this event and even better known to the hospital staff – some might call him a legend.

Sign Up for E-News

Bonassisa was interested to hear him speak and to meet others who have been where she is. She’s had two major surgeries, but said, “I am finished with chemo and in remission, with a five-year plan,” which she said involves an IV with Herceptin and Perjeta which she will receive every three weeks.

Dr. Schwartz told the story of his diagnosis, treatment, a planned three-week hospital stay that became seven weeks, a weakened immune system that led to bacterial meningitis and, eventually, a successful bone marrow transplant. He told it to people who fought similar battles and understood the fear, disappointment, hope, and eventual success he experienced.

Dr. Schwartz said his cancer journey began when he went for his annual physical, which included a routine blood test, and learned his CBC (complete blood count) was abnormal, even though it had been normal a few months earlier. When the test results came in, “Our first reaction was ‘This must be a lab error,’” he said. The crowd laughed knowingly – many of them had been there, thought the same thing and, like Dr. Schwartz, were wrong. His doctor ran the test again and, when the new CBC came back it was the same.  He was immediately referred to a hematologist, who conducted a bone marrow exam, which led to him being diagnosed with AML and referred to Hackensack University Medical Center, which has a bone marrow stem cell transplant program.

He went through several weeks of inpatient chemotherapy at Overlook Medical Center, underwent a repeat bone marrow exam to check the effectiveness of the chemotherapy and learned there were still leukemia cells in his bone marrow.  Dr. Schwartz underwent another round of chemo and, with his immune system essentially at zero, developed an infection that was diagnosed as bacterial meningitis and was placed on antibiotics.  “Fortunately, the choice of antibiotics was correct or I wouldn’t be here today,” he said.  His recovery from bacterial meningitis took its toll on everyone and, “I found out who my real friends were. They visited me on almost a daily basis giving me encouragement,” he said. It took a team of all types of therapists – physical, speech, occupational and “the most wonderful nurses in the world on the third floor to rehabilitate me. It was frustrating for somebody who never asked for help in his life to be dependent,” Dr. Schwartz said.

It took more than two months for Dr. Schwartz to recover from the effects of the meningitis – then it was time to prepare for his bone marrow transplant. None of his relatives were matches, but the International Bone Marrow Registry yielded five donors and Dr. Schwartz’s doctor chose a 30-year-old Israeli to be the donor and the bone marrow was flown from Israel in a first-class seat.

Dr. Schwartz said he received the bone marrow transplant on Thanksgiving Day, and stayed in the hospital, waiting for his blood count to go up.

After three weeks, he was released from the hospital but was readmitted because he developed kidney failure from the anti-rejection drugs. After his medications were adjusted, his kidneys recovered and he was able to return home. Since then he said he has undergone two bone marrow exams which indicate he is in full remission.

Applause rang throughout the room at that news.

Dr. Schwartz went back to work on March 4, part-time for a few weeks and then full time.  “I am functioning as the normal Dr. Schwartz who has worked and dedicated himself to Overlook for the past 38 years,” he told the audience.

He thanked the administrators of Overlook Medical Center, nurses, doctors, his associate Joana Emmolo, MD, his friends, family and his wife, Laura, who was his advocate, and supporter throughout his ordeals.

“I’m here, you’re all here. Everything is behind us and I just wanted to show you can get rid of this thing, you can survive. I went to the brink and I’m back,” Dr. Schwartz concluded. The applause was loud and lasted a long time.

Not long after he spoke, he joined other survivors, included Bonassisa, as they placed their cards showing how many birthdays they’ve celebrated since being diagnosed with cancer on the Timeline of Life – which this year extended to 30 years.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Roselle/Roselle Park

Register by June 18 for Summer of Fun Camp in Roselle

June 16, 2018

ROSELLE, NJ - Get your kids ready for best eight weeks of their young lives, as Roselle presents the 2018 version of its summer fun camp for borough youngsters.

Under the direction of Recreation Director Donald Shaw, borough officials have put together eight weeks of fun, from outdoor adventures, to movies, to arts and crafts, to bowling to swimming. There are also visits to a lake and to a ...

Vitale Family to Hold “Alex's Lemonade Stand” Fundraiser

ROSELLE PARK, NJ - The Vitale Family in Roselle Park will be participating in "Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer" this Saturday, June 16. 

The Vitale family has a son Matteo who has pediatric cancer and they want to help raise awareness.

The family will have a lemonade stand in front of there home at 718 Chestnut Street in Roselle Park, to raise ...

Roselle Park Bulk Collection Company Experiencing Significant Delays

ROSELLE PARK, NJ - The Borough of Roselle Park's Bulk Waste Collection contractor is experiencing significant delays at the solid waste transfer station designated by the Union County Utilities Authority. 

Due to these disposal delays, residents should expect delayed pickups today and Friday, as applicable, and potentially through the weekend.

The Borough remains in close ...

Roselle PBA to Host 2nd Annual Free Softball Clinic

ROSELLE, NJ - The Roselle PBA will be hosting their 2nd Annual Free Softball Clinic at Sylvester Land Field for all ages and skill levels.

The clinic will be held on Tuesday, July 10. Youth ages 5 to 11 will be held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. and ages 12 to 18 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

While the event is primarily for girls, boys are also welcome to join in on the fun that will ...

Make Music Roselle Park Lineup Includes Rock Bands, Singer-songwriters, Free Harmonica Lesson

ROSELLE PARK, NJ - The lineup for the first-ever Make Music Roselle Park will include two rock bands, a pair of singer-songwriters, a free beginner harmonica lesson and more.

The event being held on June 21, Make Music Roselle Park is part of Make Music Day, a global music celebration that takes place on the summer solstice each year and brings people of all ages and skill ...

Freeholder Board Announces Launch of Free Farmers’ Market Vouchers for Seniors

ELIZABETH, NJ - The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders has announced that the annual Farmers’ Market voucher program for seniors will begin again this summer. Starting on June 25, income-eligible adults age 60 and up can receive a total of $25 in free vouchers to purchase fresh produce at designated Farmers’ Markets throughout Union County.

The total of $25 is provided in $5 ...

Video: Union County Celebrates Pride Month with CommUNITY PRIDE Day Picnic

June 18, 2018

RAHWAY, NJ - Parents, children, friends, and all family members came out on Saturday afternoon to Rahway River Park for the Union County CommUNITY PRIDE Day Picnic.

The family-friendly celebration hosted by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, was a day of fun activities of arts and crafts, family lawn games, inflatable bounce houses, playground fun and more, along with music by the ...

Gov. Murphy still pushing a millionaire's tax, won’t say when he'll sign sports betting, weed bills

June 11, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - With a showdown on the state budget looming just 22 days away, Gov. Phil Murphy today re-emphasized his call for a tax on the state’s wealthiest households while hoping to avoid another shutdown of state government.

“Do I still want a millionaire’s tax? The answer is ‘yes,’ “ Murphy said at a press conference at the John ...

Get Empowered to Help Prevent Suicide

June 9, 2018

Over the past week social media and the news have been filled with stories and articles encouraging people to seek help if they’re in emotional distress. There have been countless articles about the need to break the silence around the topic of mental health and suicide, and I am encouraged by the support people are extending to others.

Often, the death by suicide by prominent ...

Local at-risk youth celebrate year of achievements at Community Access Unlimited

June 18, 2018

Community Access Unlimited (CAU) last night celebrated the achievements of a number of at-risk youth who are members of the agency's Transitional Opportunities Program (TOP). Each of these youth are within New Jersey's child services system and faced a number of life challenges before coming to CAU and TOP and since then have made significant progress in plotting a brighter future with ...

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (William Morrow, 2018)

 

A friend, whose opinion on literature I respect greatly, reported to me recently that she had just finished reading A.J. Finn's debut novel, The Woman in the Window. Of it she said, “I wish I hadn't finished it,” which I interpreted to mean, “It was so good I'm sorry that I finished it.” ...