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Patient’s cancer journey inspires fund for research

Mar. 21, 2013, 8:39 AM

Steve Voland and his wife, Terri, established a research fund to support neuro-oncology at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center while Steve was being treated for a rare type of cancer in his neck and spine.

There’s a long list of Vanderbilt faculty and staff who made an impact on Terri and Steve Voland when Steve was treated at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center for a rare type of cancer in his neck and spine.

The list included a friendly valet employee who parked their car when they arrived at the Cancer Center, and their compassionate Cancer Center care team, which included Paul Moots, M.D., Pam Dawson, R.N., and patient service representatives Nicole Short and Fannie Bean.

“Everybody was so good to us. They knew us by name,” said Terri Voland. “When you’re there all the time, you get to know the people well.”

In June 2011, shortly after Steve and Terri moved into their dream home in Lenoir City, Tenn., Steve was diagnosed with astrocytoma glioblastoma in his neck and spine, a type of cancer normally found in the brain. Steve, a U.S. Army Senior EOD Specialist and team leader for eight years, was senior vice president of operations and director of projects at Sterling Global Operations Inc., a company focused on munitions response, security and logistics. He died in December 2012. He was 45.

“When we’d come for treatment, the valet recognized our vehicle,” Terri said. “He was a Cowboys fan like us. The radiation folks were great to us, as well as the people who did the blood draws, getting Steve ready for his Avastin chemotherapy treatment. We looked forward to seeing all of them. We brought them Christmas presents,” Voland said.

But the East Tennessee couple went one step beyond Christmas presents. During Steve’s treatment, they established the Stephen Voland Research Fund to support research in neuro-oncology at VICC. The fund was established in hopes of moving the discovery process forward so that similar patients could have a better outcome.

“We wanted to do something for the Cancer Center, specifically for neuro-oncology,” Terri said. “There’s not enough research being done on these horrible diseases that affect your entire nervous system.”

Steve Voland had lower back surgery in September 2009, which left him with some numbness in his left leg and feet. In early 2011, his symptoms worsened.

Steve Voland shares a moment with Pam Dawson, R.N., one of the many people at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center who helped care for him.

He made a doctor’s appointment in Knoxville, and the physician ordered an MRI of the lower back, neck and spine prior to the appointment. The MRI showed a tumor in his neck. Following a consultation in Knoxville, Voland was referred to VICC.

The couple initially met with Joseph Cheng, M.D., then chose to opt for a surgery on Aug. 2, 2011, that would debulk and biopsy the tumor.

“Before the surgery, Dr. Cheng told us that it was probably either a lymphoma, ependymoma or an astrocytoma. I only recognized one of those words, and that was lymphoma,” Terri said. “It had killed my mother and aunt. Lymphoma was our best-case scenario, Dr. Cheng said, so Steve and I laughed and said ‘come on lymphoma!’ We’re lighthearted people. That’s just who we are,” she said.

After the diagnosis, Steve became a patient of Moots, who helped them manage the cancer and treatments for the next 18 months. “At some point, it was just a chain reaction, one thing after another, but we had medical DNRs in place, and so we moved to palliative care back in Knoxville,” Terri said.

Pam Dawson, the nurse who cared for Steve and supported Terri, said the Volands were inspiring. “The Volands were so strong and real during this awful illness journey,” she said.

“My husband and I are very generous people,” Voland said. “We didn’t do anything that we wanted credit for. We did this because it was a rare tumor, nothing was being done about this, and we were grateful for the treatment we got at Vanderbilt.”

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