The 4th Angel mentoring program, for which Scott Hamilton is an ambassador, gives cancer patients a ray of hope, pairing them with other cancer patients and survivors.
In the summer of 2009, doctors told Melani Vincelli she had six to nine months to live. Cancer had barreled its way through most of her stomach and was burrowing into her liver and lungs. She was 49.
Vincelli wasn’t going down without a fight. “I remember telling my son, who was 21 at the time, ‘I am in the fight of my life. And I’m not going to waste my time with doctors who don’t believe in me.’”
She went to the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, where she underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, then had surgery to remove her stomach. By the end of 2009, Vincelli’s doctors pronounced her cancer-free. Today, she counts herself among an elite few — the mere 5 percent of stage 4 stomach cancer patients who survive five years past their diagnosis.
Looking back on her cancer journey, one thing that struck Vincelli was just how lonely it had been. “When you’re first diagnosed with cancer, it’s a life-changing event to begin with. When you’re diagnosed with a cancer that isn’t very well known, it’s a double whammy,” she says. “The only other people who could understand what I was going through were gastric bypass patients.”
Wishing she’d had another stomach cancer patient to show her the ropes, Vincelli decided to become a mentor. She learned about 4th Angel, a Cleveland Clinic program for which Scott Hamilton is an ambassador that partners newly diagnosed cancer patients with survivors. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to do this,’” she says.
Scott Hamilton CARES
Scott Hamilton started his Cancer Alliance for Research, Education, and Survivorship (CARES) Foundation in 1999, after surviving testicular cancer. The 4th Angel mentoring program arose out of his own need for advice during treatment.
“When I was going through my cancer, I realized that I wanted to quit after round three,” he says. “I had my doctor and my oncology nurses and my friends and family, but I didn’t have anybody that was going to sit there and tell me, ‘When I did this, here’s how it went for me.’ So I realized that there needed to be that fourth person – that 4th Angel, as it were.”
An angel for Cindy
Earlier this year, Cindy Hamilton (no relation to Scott) thought she was dealing with a bout of stomach flu. She went to a doctor at a local walk-in clinic near her home in Franklin, Tenn. Doctors there saw something concerning, and immediately sent her to the ER at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
“I had an endoscopy and colonoscopy, and they discovered a tumor in my abdomen that had broken through,” she says. The 42-year-old mother of two was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer.
Within two days, she’d signed up for the 4th angel program and was paired up with Vincelli. Throughout her weekly chemotherapy sessions, Cindy Hamilton has leaned on her mentor’s regular emails for support and guidance.
“Because I’ve been there, done that, I helped her with nutrition. I helped her with what helped for me. Getting through the chemo,” Vincelli says. “I was trying to tell her how to keep her spirits up.”
She’s also counseled Cindy Hamilton on getting a second opinion, recommending doctors, and urging her to keep moving forward. “Unfortunately, with this disease you don’t have the gift of time. Stomach cancer is so aggressive that you have to be on your game right away,” Vincelli says.
“She’s really great about giving me advice because she’s been through it,” Cindy Hamilton says. “It’s not like breast cancer, where there’s a lot of support. It’s been nice to have somebody who’s walked this road.”
So far, her treatment is working. Her cancer has stalled, and it even seems to have receded somewhat. She credits her doctors with her progress, but attributes Scott Hamilton’s program and Vincelli’s guidance with her positive outlook. “4th Angel has been one of the single best things that’s happened, because it’s given me hope,” she says. “There’s nothing more valuable than having somebody walk that path with you.”
As much as Vincelli has given to Cindy Hamilton and her other 4th Angel mentees, she’s gotten back from the program. “It kind of justifies me being here,” she says. “If this has taught me anything, it’s taught me how you can affect people’s lives.”
Scott Hamilton says he loves hearing stories about the good being done by the 4th Angels, whom he calls “travel agents for cancer patients.” “When people are able to fly with a true understanding of where they’re headed and what the terrain is and how they’re going to navigate it, the trip is a lot smoother,” he says. “We’re going to make sure the trip is smoother, and that the support will be there.”
June 20, 2017
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA