By Bernadette Starzae
Sayville resident Brooke Dubay, now 16, was a healthy teenager playing on three varsity sports teams when she developed a bump in her mouth. At first she dismissed it as a cold sore, but when it got bigger, her dentist referred her to an oral surgeon, who removed it.
“The oral surgeon said it didn’t look like anything to worry about, but when the biopsy results came back, we found it was rhabdomyosarcoma,” said Kim Dubay, Brooke’s mother.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is a rare cancer that develops in muscle tissue and mainly affects children and adolescents.
Brooke, who was diagnosed in April 2020, underwent surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) to remove surrounding tissue. Although her cancer was stage 1, Dubay had to undergo radiation and chemotherapy treatments. The first few treatments were done at MSK’s main campus in Manhattan.
“One type of treatment required her to spend all day there, and we didn’t get home until about 8pm and had to come back at 7am the next day,” Kim Dubay said. “Brooke sometimes felt nauseous during the long ride and we had to stop.”
Many of the treatments were shorter in duration, but a trek to Manhattan meant Brooke would miss entire school days, as did Kim, who is a teacher. Furthermore, it would take Kim away from her three other children. At Kim’s request, Brooke was given permission to undergo most of her treatments, scans and visits at MSK’s Commack facility.
“It was so much less distracting not having to go to Manhattan,” Kim Dubay said, adding that sometimes she can schedule a 4:30 p.m. appointment and she and Brooke can go after school.
In recent years, MSK has developed regional centers in suburban New York, including locations in Commack and Uniondale, and has begun moving many services, including radiology, chemotherapy, and lab testing, to these suburban centers. The pandemic has accelerated this trend, according to Dr. Andrew Kung, a pediatric oncologist and chair of MSK’s Department of Pediatrics (MSK Kids), which treats all common and rare cancers in children and adolescents. Many patients were nervous about going to Manhattan in the early months of the Covid-19 crisis. This contributed to the shift to regional centers and the introduction of telemedicine for certain types of visits, such as psychosocial care.
“Since the pandemic, approximately 30 percent of all MSK Kids care has taken place in our regional locations or via telemedicine,” said Dr. kung.
Disrupting the lives of children and their families as little as possible is one of the goals of MSK Kids.
“About 80 percent of childhood cancers are curable, which is real evidence of the progress made over the past 40 to 50 years,” said Dr. kung. “With that success, we need to pay equal attention to ensuring that the therapies are not only effective in treating disease, but that we cause as little toxicity as possible, both in terms of the drug itself and the disruption of children’s lives.”
Not all services can be done on Long Island.
“What we do for each patient is make sure they are treated in the most appropriate place for every therapeutic modality they need,” said Dr. kung. “Our options range from very routine to very high-tech therapies, and some therapies are not suitable for an outpatient setting and must be treated at our main facility in Manhattan.”
But where possible MSK Kids expands the services close to home.
“By providing services to the child’s community, children and their families can try to return to a more normal life,” said Dr. kung. “Instead of dragging to Manhattan and wasting entire days, kids can stay busy with school and sports.”
Brooke Dubay took online classes for most of the school year and began in-person classes in April. The sport has been disrupted due to the pandemic, but the teen, whose recent three-month follow-up scans were clear, is looking forward to returning to a full sports program in the fall.
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