St. Joseph's

Cancer Patient Stories

 Peter HoettelsYoung man finds a team of experts, and hope, after cancer diagnosis 

It was “incredibly scary, heart-pounding” news for Peter Hoettels of West Bend to hear the word cancer linked to the awful symptoms he had been having. 

He was sick, he knew it, extremely tired, and had night sweats. He had suddenly dropped 60 pounds from his 220-pound frame. The biggest problem was that he was having trouble breathing. But having been laid off from his job and without insurance, Peter put off seeing a doctor. 

“It’s been a roller coaster,” said Peter, 29, looking back to October 2011 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer that begins in cells of the immune system. 

With his girlfriend, Andrea Robenhorst, extremely worried, Peter sought help at the Albrecht Free Clinic in West Bend, which provides free medical care for people with little or no insurance and receives support from Froedtert Health St. Joseph’s Hospital. 

A nurse practitioner examined Peter and reviewed his symptoms, which pointed to the possibility of lymphatic cancer. But it was the buildup of fluid in Peter’s chest that needed to be addressed immediately. He was sent to St. Joseph’s Hospital’s Emergency Care Center where doctors gave him oxygen as a temporary measure. 

“Thankfully we were able to go home. The oxygen helped,” said Peter, grateful for the Free Clinic and the ER’s quick work. Yet he and Andrea were still in disbelief. 

“I was thinking, ‘this can’t happen to me. I’m so young,’” Peter said. 

Soon after, Peter returned to St. Joseph’s Hospital to see Froedtert Health Medical Group pulmonologist and critical care specialist Jeffery Smale, MD, who drained the fluid from Peter’s lungs. Froedtert Health Medical Group general and vascular surgeon Kaizad Machhi, MD, performed a biopsy Oct. 21, excising an entire lymph node on the right side of his neck, confirming the diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma. Later, Dr. Machhi would place on Peter’s chest a port connected to a catheter in a central vein, the lifeline to the chemotherapy drugs that would cure his disease. 

Dr. Smale referred Peter to the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Network at St. Joseph's Hospital’s Kraemer Cancer Center. On Nov. 1, Peter began six four-week cycles of chemotherapy treatments with Medical College of Wisconsin hematologist/oncologist Colin Mooney, MD. 

“The nurses really knew what they were talking about,” said Andrea, who was at Peter’s side much of the time. 

“They made me feel very comfortable,” Peter said. “After a few sessions, everyone knew each other. Dr. Mooney gave me a number where I could call him any time.” 

Peter met with Dr. Mooney and Medical College of Wisconsin radiation oncologist Candice Johnstone, MD, MPH, who is also the medical director of the Cancer Network, to plan the next steps. Dr. Johnstone oversaw two weeks of radiation therapy for Peter in May, using radiation to shrink a large residual mass in his chest. Her goal was to prevent relapse at the largest site of lymphoma, where the risk is highest. 

Peter observed how well all the doctors and staff worked together to coordinate his care: “They all knew what was going on. It was very reassuring.” 

“Peter did incredibly well,” Dr. Mooney said. “He handled chemotherapy and radiation incredibly well, with literally no side effects from the chemotherapy. His follow-up PET/CT scan in August was normal.” 

With his cancer in remission, Peter sees Dr. Mooney for checkups and also sees Medical College of Wisconsin internal medicine physician Randy Bell, MD, at the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Specialty Clinics at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Dr. Bell provides ongoing health and wellness care for Peter, who did not have a primary care physician. Dr. Bell is also part of the Cancer Survivors Clinic, an extension of the Cancer Network. 

“The survivorship team discussed what the next step would be for Peter,” Dr. Bell said. “Peter needs closer follow-up than most 29-year-olds, but we felt that because he had done so well, his needs could be well taken care of through primary care. I’ll want to see him every six months to make sure he has no swollen lymph nodes, that his weight and cardiovascular health are good, and he has no other complications.” Hodgkin lymphoma patients have an increased chance of developing heart disease and other cancers. 

“Dr. Bell’s attitude was ‘Now let’s get you back to good health,’” Peter said. 

Peter is also continuing to follow advice he received from Froedtert Health registered and clinical dietitian Tricia Buss, who got involved early to help Peter get the right nutrition to maintain his strength for treatment. “He was really motivated and gained his weight back,” Tricia said. 

There was more good news. Peter found a job during the time he was getting treatment. And only 11 days into chemotherapy – on 11/11/11 – he and Andrea were engaged. It was a hope-filled decision for the couple. “Everyone thought that we’d hold off because of the cancer. But I had the proposal all planned,” Peter said. They will be married next summer.


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Kraemer Cancer Center, St. Joseph's Hospital 3200 Pleasant Valley Road
West Bend, WI 53095

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