12:46am Tuesday 02 June 2020

Family travels 6,000 miles for father’s cancer treatment


For the past several months, several family members uprooted their lives and moved to a motel in Los Angeles where they could be near their family patriarch, who was undergoing cancer treatment at the USC Norris Cancer Hospital.


“It’s been a long road,” said Jocelyn Kapielo, who came to California with her husband to look after her ailing father.


Tobias Aldan is the mayor of a small town on the island of Saipan. He has five surviving children and works on the family’s 2.5-acre farm.


He has a fairly idyllic life, but last September, the 66-year-old began getting headaches. After several trips to doctors, father and daughter found themselves on nearby Guam for more tests. The news was not good  — he had sinus cancer.


Then they received another shock — a doctor scheduled him to be treated at the Keck Medical Center of USC.


“I said, ‘Where is that?’ ” Kapielo recalled. “He said, ‘Los Angeles.’ I started to punch the table. ‘Are you going to pay my way?’ ”


But with Aldan’s insurance paying for his treatment, his family figured out a way to make it work. In November, Aldan and three family members landed at Los Angeles International Airport for what turned out to be a lengthy stay


USC Norris Cancer Hospital specialists removed an orange-sized tumor located along the skull base beneath Aldan’s brain. Then came the months of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.


Helping him along were an interdisciplinary team of doctors, including Gabriel Zada, Bozena Wrobel, Stephen Liu, Eric Chang, Dean Carmen A. Puliafito, Peter Crookes, May Kim-Tenser, Benjamin Emanuel and Uttam Sinha. Nurse practitioner Lydia Wilson and speech therapists Melody Ouyoung and Monica Mu were also an integral part of the team.


After a weeklong stay in the hospital, Aldan was released. He could have gone home, but the family decided to stay at the motel and commute back to the Keck Medical Center every day for treatment.


“I was thinking that it’s better to do it here,” Kapielo said. “We never knew it would be this long.”


This has been no vacation. Aside from one visit to the beach, the family was at the hospital every single day from November through mid-March. It was a commitment that impressed Aldan’s doctors.


“I don’t think he could have done it alone,” said Zada, assistant professor of neurological surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.


With Aldan’s recovery under way, the clan returned home. Aldan will receive follow-up treatment in Guam. Liu said doctors here will receive copies of Aldan’s brain scans.


“He’s finished treatment,” said Liu, assistant professor of clinical medicine. “His spirits are up. His family has been tremendous.”


Aldan is a man of few words. But he smiled broadly when he thought about the journey he and his family have successfully undertook.


“Now it’s good,” he said. “Everything is good.”

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