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When a doctor gets cancer

February 21, 2017 | Roger Steinert, MD
dr. roger steinert, UCI Health ophthalmologist, patient and brain tumor survivor
Dr. Roger Steinert was an ophthalmologist at the UCI Health Gavin Herbert Eye Institute.

Editor's note: Just over two years ago, on a late Monday afternoon, Dr. Roger Steinert felt a strange sensation on the right side of his body and, feeling poorly, left his office at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute on the UC Irvine campus.

By the time he arrived home he thought he was having a stroke.

His wife, April, drove him to UC Irvine Medical Center’s emergency room, and within hours he was a facing a diagnosis that would change his life. It wasn’t a stroke. He had a type of brain cancer called glioblastoma.

Steinert is a highly regarded ophthalmologist and has a celebrated career as the Irving H. Leopold Professor at UC Irvine, chair of the Department of Ophthalmology, founding director of the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, and, at the time of his diagnosis, interim dean of the School of Medicine.

But now he needed the help and support of his UCI Health colleagues.

Dr. Steinert passed away summer 2017. Read more about his life and career ›

Dr. Roger Steinert in his own words

In retrospect, I should have figured out what was going on a little earlier. I acted more like a patient than a doctor. I was denying the symptoms I was having — unusual sensations that were small and intermittent.

But on the afternoon of Dec. 1, 2014, I felt a strange feeling on my right side. I just wanted to go home.

By the time I was home I knew something was going wrong in my body in a major way. My wife, too, knew that something was wrong.

I knew that every minute counted when someone is having a stroke, and within 45 minutes we were in the emergency room and had the diagnosis of a brain tumor.

Once I was diagnosed, I was told I had some options. Fortunately, for me, our neurological oncology surgical team includes Dr. Frank Hsu and Dr. Jefferson Chen. They used a device called BrainPath to navigate in my brain and remove the tumor with the smallest incision and least amount of cutting, which can be devastating in the brain.

Then I saw Dr. Daniela Bota. She and her team have been watching me and guiding me through radiation and different kinds of chemotherapy. I have also been in a glioblastoma vaccine trial since June. So far that’s working.

I was blessed that Dr. Bota is one of the leaders in this type of treatment. I didn’t seek treatment at UCI Health because I work here. I sought treatment from my colleagues because the best program for glioblastoma happens to be right here at UCI Health. I’m incredibly grateful to get care near where I live. I had the confidence that the best people were right in the same place I work and where I try to help my own patients.

A few days after the surgery, I developed bleeding in the brain. Dr. Hsu suggested going back in and fixing it. He said, ‘I know I can get you through this.’ I said, ‘Go for it,’ because I had such confidence in him.

Everyone from the surgeons and doctors to the nurses and hospital staff were the best. I felt I was in the best possible hands. Now it’s two years later, and I still go to work every day. What else am I going to do? I’m so grateful to have been given this much extra time. And I’m hoping for more!

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