Hans' Cancer Journey

Moments in Time is the 2007-2008 Cancer Center Annual Report
 
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Hans Bernet thought there was nothing unusual about taking an extended walk on the lakeshore path near University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison.

So what if he was wearing a coat over his hospital garb and pushing an IV drip pole? He'd been cooped up at UW Carbone Cancer Center, part of UW Hospital and Clinics, while undergoing 72 hours straight of chemotherapy. He felt good and was bored walking the hospital corridors and grounds. Besides, it was a beautiful fall day.

Bernet didn't get far before a woman on a bike stopped to ask if he was OK. He assured her that everything was fine. Still feeling exhilarated just to be outdoors, he walked farther than planned. Another woman stopped to ask if everything was all right. "No problem," he said. But as he approached the hospital upon his return, a University of Wisconsin police squad car awaited him. The officer informed him there was a report of a wayward patient from the hospital.

"I thought it was funny," Bernet says.

Sometimes it's hard to keep an active person down for long, even when he's being treated for a rare type of cancer. Bernet has non-Hodgkins mantle cell lymphoma, an aggressive cancer that gets its name because it first appears in the part of the lymph node called the "mantle" zone.
 
Change of Plans
 
At 60, Bernet has a very active lifestyle, traveling, hiking, competing in area fun runs and often bicycling the hilly, 12-mile roundtrip to his job at Swiss Colony, where he's worked for the past 30 years in his hometown of Monroe.
 
Bernet had a busy spring planned in 2007. He set a modest goal of improving his time in the annual Crazylegs Run in Madison, a 4.97-mile event in late April from the State Capitol to Camp Randall Stadium. More importantly, he had organized a trip to his family's native Switzerland to celebrate his mother's 80th birthday with extended family.

He didn't reach his goal in the run. "I didn't feel bad, I just ran a slower time," he says. And he didn't make the trip to Switzerland.

A routine physical at the Monroe Clinic in early June indicated an enlarged spleen. His doctor was suspicious and follow-up tests confirmed that Bernet had mantle cell lymphoma. Within two weeks he was part of a clinical trial headed by Brad Kahl, MD of University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, a leading-edge national expert in the field of mantle cell treatment.

Bernet cancelled his flight to Switzerland and began treatment.

Mantle cell is an uncommon form of lymphoma with a notoriously poor prognosis, primarily afflicting men over 50. Four or five years ago, Bernet says, he would have been told he had the worst kind of lymphoma. But Kahl says Bernet has responded "beautifully" to a novel treatment regimen pioneered at the UW using the drug Velcade with standard chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is followed by the drug Rituxan, a drug used to maintain the remission status of the cancer. Kahl says Bernet remains in remission and he's very optimistic about his long term prognosis.

"So far things are looking good," Bernet says. "And I was amazed at the number of people from Monroe who have been treated by [Dr. Kahl]."

"Everyone thinks he walks on water," he adds. 

Bernet was just happy for a walk on the lakeshore path.
 
Hans During a Routine Appointment at the UW Carbone Cancer Center
 

Andres Sousa, medical assistant, checks Hans' weight

Hans and his mother with Brad Kahl, MD

Hans receiving chemotherapy