Leslie Seigel is a two-time breast cancer survivor; her son Josh received a diagnosis of testicular cancer last fall. Both carry the BRCA1 mutation that increases the risk for malignancies of the breast and other organs.
The care they received at City of Hope helped get them through. Determined to channel the tough times they faced into something positive, the Seigels have taken on a mantle of advocacy.
Together, they will serve as 2020 Walk for Hope Ambassadors, promoting a national event that raises awareness and funds for City of Hope research, treatment and education for women’s cancers. Normally a 2K/5K walk through City of Hope’s campus, Walk for Hope has switched formats this year to become a virtual event in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The mother-son team approaches their roles as patient advocates with enthusiasm.
“I just felt there was a bigger purpose to my getting sick a second time,” Leslie said. “If I can help one person feel that they’re going to get through it, and be better for it, this is what I need to do.”
Echoing that sentiment, Josh said: “If one more person is able to have the experience that I had with City of Hope, then it’s worth it. The research they’re doing, the treatment and the experience around it — it’s world-class. The more people that can be exposed to that, the better.”
‘They Gave Me Hope’
In 2017, when Leslie Seigel noticed a lump in her breast, she knew to take it seriously. Her mother had died of breast cancer, and she had won her own battle with the disease almost 30 years earlier, albeit with a regimen she describes as “barbaric.”
The Newport Beach, California, resident’s diagnosis was a jolt — triple-negative breast cancer, which is aggressive and can be difficult to treat. Feeling a disconnect with the oncologist who oversaw her therapy earlier on, she asked around about her best options for cancer care.
Unanimously, the answer came back: “City of Hope.” What’s more, two members of her circle independently recommended the same doctor there, James Waisman, M.D., medical director of Duarte clinics and clinical professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research.
Leslie’s family and personal history with cancer burdened her with anxiety and fear when she had to return to the hospital. The kindness of her medical team and others she encountered at City of Hope helped ease her distress.
“When you have cancer, you want someone to pull up a chair and be there with you,” she said. “You want to know you’re not alone. And that’s just what I felt at City of Hope — they gave me hope.”
Under Waisman’s care, Leslie received chemotherapy. Hearing that she wanted to avoid the hair loss she had experienced from chemo decades earlier, he recommended cold-cap therapy, which mitigates that side effect.
Later, she would undergo a double mastectomy.
Leslie still treasures the memory of when she completed chemo and, as is tradition, nurses rang a bell in celebration. Two years after completing therapy, she remains cancer-free.
‘Just A No-Brainer’
Joining his mother on the City of Hope campus for the 2019 Walk for Hope, Josh Seigel hardly could have suspected that he would return as a patient within months.
Shortly thereafter, though, pain in his testicles sent him to urgent care, where he was diagnosed with an infection and dispensed antibiotics. The ache returned a month later, and his then-fiancée, now-wife, Jody, pushed him to seek medical help.
This time, an ultrasound revealed a mass.
After a false start elsewhere, Josh turned to City of Hope, where his treatment was led by Clayton Lau, M.D., Pauline & Martin Collins Family Chair in Urology and chief of the Division of Urology and Urologic Oncology. Josh appreciated the surgeon’s clear communication and placid demeanor.
“Even though City of Hope was farther away than other hospitals I was considering, it was just a no-brainer in terms of the type of experience I’d have,” said Josh, who lives in Marina del Rey, California. “It was such a relief to hear all my options from Dr. Lau. He gave me a very calming sense of the treatment plan.”
Josh’s course of therapy consisted of a procedure to remove the cancerous testicle, followed by two rounds of chemo. In fact, he received infusions from some of the same nurses who helped his mother.
“The chemo nurses were truly remarkable,” he said. “They made everything so easy for me.”
In early March 2020, Josh enjoyed his own bell-ringing moment.
“That’s definitely the most memorable day. When you finish that last treatment, the nurses come and sing a song and you ring a bell,” he said. “It was great.”
‘A Unique Thing To Bond Over’
Knowing that his mother overcame cancer twice, Josh gained a measure of solace in facing his own journey with the disease.
“It wasn’t as scary a process, having clarity about the experience I might have,” he said. “Maybe we didn’t understand Mom’s perspective at the time of her treatment, but now I think I understand what she went through.”
For Leslie’s part, seeing the bravery with which Josh confronted his own diagnosis and therapy revealed a new side of the man she and her husband had raised.
“I really admired the way he handled it with such a great outlook,” she said. “For a bad situation, it really helped me to see, ‘Wow, he really can do this, and with grace.’”
The Seigels look forward to their involvement with Walk for Hope as one more thing to bring them closer together.
“Being representatives, as a mother and a son, is a unique thing to bond over,” Josh said.
Added Leslie, “Hopefully, this walk will inspire others to be a little closer with the people in their lives. It’s a crazy world out there, and we need to spread more kindness, love and encouragement.”