Jeffrey Z The Right Treatment for His Cancer

A second opinion through a telemedicine visit with an expert at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey brought Jeffrey Zatta peace of mind.

In 2015, Jeffrey Zatta was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. His doctor prescribed a monthly intravenous infusion of obinutuzumab—an antibody-drug that targets lymphoma cells—and advised him that the treatment might only work temporarily. “He was right on the money,” recalls Jeffrey, a 65-year-old commercial lender, and consultant in Toms River. “For four or five years, I had virtually no problems.”

Last fall, blood work showed that Jeffrey’s white blood cell count was dropping dramatically, signaling that the cancer was worsening. Fortunately, several new innovative treatments had been developed since Jeffrey was first diagnosed. His doctor, Chirag Shah, MD, an oncologist at Community Medical Center (CMC), devised a new treatment plan, which took into account Jeffrey’s medical history: kidney cancer, a heart attack, and high blood pressure, among other things. “These problems made my treatment more complicated,” he says.

Chirag Shah, MD
Chirag Shah, MD

Fortunately, Jeffrey and Dr. Shah were able to take advantage of the cancer experts at the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the state.

Dr. Shah referred Jeffrey to Andrew M. Evens, DO, MSc, FACP, Associate Director for Clinical Services at Rutgers Cancer Institute, and Medical Director of the Oncology Service Line at RWJBarnabas Health, for a second opinion through a new telemedicine service, which started in 2019.

“We have a multitude of national and international cancer experts who can provide second or third opinions and diagnostic and treatment expertise for challenging cases,” says Dr. Evens. “This was a new and exciting initiative for cancer patients in New Jersey.”

At CMC and other RWJBarnabas Health hospitals, cancer patients can receive virtual medical consultations and follow-up care by medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, and/or radiation oncologists.

Using a smartphone, tablet or computer, a patient will receive a detailed evaluation by an oncology expert, which usually also includes the opinions of a panel of physicians from specialized multidisciplinary tumor board conferences.

Afterward, he or she will be referred to the most appropriate center and/or clinical trial at RWJBarnabas Health, including the continuance of their cancer care close to home, with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey experts monitoring remotely.

A Convenient Doctor’s Appointment

Andrew M. Evens
Andrew M. Evens, DO, MSc, FACP,
Associate Director for Clinical Services at
Rutgers Cancer Institute

There are more than 80 different types of lymphoma, all of which are very treatable, says Dr. Evens.

“Diagnosis of the particular lymphoma subtype can be challenging to make,” he says. “In addition, depending on the type, the treatment and prognosis can be quite different,” he says. “A second opinion service allows patients to have experts in that specific type of cancer confirm the exact pathologic diagnosis and also help devise the best treatment for their individualized case.”

Another big plus: Patients can have the consult close to home.

In January, Jeffrey and his daughter went to CMC and were escorted to a room where a large high-definition TV monitor had been set up. Dr. Evens, who was in an office in New Brunswick, appeared on the screen, and they talked for about an hour.

“You feel like you’re sitting in his office,” says Jeffrey. “He was there for as much time as I needed him. He had reviewed about 10 years’ worth of my medical records.”

In the end, Dr. Evens recommended the same overall treatment Dr. Shah had prescribed, with a few modifications of the dose of the medications.

“He’s the No. 1 guy for my type of cancer,” says Jeffrey. “So the fact that he and Dr. Shah were on the same page gave me a great sense of comfort. You know you’re getting the right treatment.”

A New Regimen

Jeffrey has started his new treatment regimen. He’s taking the same medication he took earlier but is also taking an oral targeted anti-CLL drug.

“It doesn’t cure cancer, but it kicks it down the road by as much as 10 years,” says Jeffrey.

Already, his white blood cell count has improved. Drs. Shah and Evens will continue to monitor Jeffrey and alter his treatment plan if needed. Jeffrey has not had any symptoms or medication side effects.

“I feel good,” he says. “I used to go to the gym after my infusion, and I still do.”

His only complaint is the time-consuming doctor visits.

“You can’t miss appointments,” he says. “Between my oncologist, dentist, eye doctor and weekly blood work, I probably will have more than 100 medical appointments this year.”

That’s why he’s glad his virtual oncology consult was easy and convenient.

“CMC is practically down the block from where I live,” says Jeffrey. “That really made a difference.”

RWJBarnabas Health and Community Medical Center, in partnership with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey—the state’s only NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center—provide close-to-home access to the most advanced treatment options. For more information, visit our Cancer page. To schedule an appointment, call 844.CANCERNJ.