Cancer Patient Stories
Young 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
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
“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.