Small B-cell non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, 2006
Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), 2016
Kirk Kaszak has successfully completed a 100-mile bike ride through Lake Tahoe; was part of a relay team in the Pittsburgh Marathon; earned a martial arts black belt; and a master’s degree in business administration. All of this after he was diagnosed with cancer…twice.
It was about 10 years ago, when Kaszak, who was only in his mid-40’s, found he could barely walk up a small slope in his yard to his dog, Bogey.
“I was out of breath and couldn’t believe how out of shape I was,” said Kaszak.
Kaszak wasn’t out of shape. A trip to the doctors and an eventual biopsy led to the diagnosis of small B cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And, then his real journey began.
Kaszak now knows there were symptoms that he ignored or just thought were the result of working long hours. In addition to shortness of breath, Kaszak also experienced fatigue and exhaustion along with night sweats. When a primary care physician noticed his swollen neck, a biopsy of the lymph nodes in his neck detected the presence of cancer.
“I was blindsided when I was told I had cancer,” said Kaszak. “I had been exhausted for a long time and I just thought it was normal.”
That was in December of 2006.
After six months of chemotherapy, Kaszak’s cancer was in remission. He was back in business and back to life and work.
But, almost 10 years later, cancer returned. This time, it was another form of leukemia that affects the bone marrow called chronic lymphocytic leukemia or CLL.
Kaszak is now on an oral medication designed to block the multiplication of abnormal b-cells.
While working to get well, enduring chemotherapy and now, side effects from his current medication, Kaszak’ s employer sold the company and now, in addition to cancer, he was out of a job.
So, what did he do?
“I made a bucket list,” said Kaszak proudly. “And I am still working through my list.”
Kaszak started with the martial arts class and made it to a 2nd-degree black belt. He enrolled in college and obtained his MBA and he’s now pursuing a degree in Cybersecurity.
While he may currently be on a medical leave, he believes in giving back and has volunteered at the food bank, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center and serves on the board of this very event, the Stanley M. Marks M.D. Golf Classic.
“I didn’t know much when I was first diagnosed with cancer,” Kaszak said. “But, I soon learned that Dr. Stan Marks was the best cancer doctor in Pittsburgh and today I am happy to be a part of his golf classic that raises money for cancer research.”
A. Odell Richardson
Two years ago, Odell Richardson said he was given a huge blessing. It was the day he suffered a heart attack.
On May 19, 2016, Richardson went to the emergency room at UPMC Shadyside with severe indigestion and following several tests, doctors found almost complete blockages in all four of his main heart arteries. During his heart surgery, the surgeon noticed an infection in his chest and sent the tissue for a biopsy.
Richardson was diagnosed with cancer. He was not only recovering from open heart surgery but was now facing lymphoma.
“My cardiologist didn’t know much about oncology,” said Richardson. “I asked for the best doctor he could refer, and I was lucky enough to be referred to Dr. Stan Marks. He was and is for me, the top guy!”
Dr. Marks told Richardson that he had an aggressive form of lymphoma, but that the good news was the cancer was isolated and was only located in his chest. If not for the heart attack and surgery, the cancer would not have been found.
Richardson started chemotherapy while continuing with cardiac rehabilitation therapy. On the first day after chemotherapy, Richardson also started a new job.
“I had a conversation with God on the night before my heart surgery that if He brought me through this, then whatever he decided for my life, I would do it.” said Richardson.
A week later, he was offered the position of executive director of Pittsburgh Community Services, Inc. and the way he saw it, “God didn’t get me through heart surgery to take me out with cancer.”
Richardson said he knew he would survive. His cancer is in remission and he is looking forward to his two-year survival mark, in six short months. The experience has forever changed Richardson’s outlook on many things including cancer.
“The time I spent at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center opened my eyes to the extent and sheer magnitude of the people who are affected by cancer,” said Richardson. “It crosses ethnic and economic boundaries and meeting so many who have had it and beat it is overwhelming to me. And knowing that I was being cared for in the best possible place in Pittsburgh with the best doctor was also overwhelming to me.”
Richardson also views his position with Pittsburgh Community Services not as a job, but as his life’s mission. He believes he was awarded the position and it helped to determine his purpose. He has taken his experiences in learning healthier ways of living and cooking and incorporated them into some of the services he offers through the non-profit agency.
“We are providing canned goods to many of our customers,” said Richardson. “And while that’s good, I’ve now taken that further and provided ways to fix it and mix it into healthier food options.”
Richardson is also starting a pilot project with a group of seniors in Oak Hill where they will grow their own vegetables for healthier food options. His hope is to grow that into a sustainable program for others helped by PCSI.
Richardson’s interest in food was also spurred by the owner of one of his favorite restaurants. On that first day of chemo, Ling Robinson, owner of Thai Bistro in Bakery Square in Pittsburgh made a deal with Richardson. She told him that he would become healthier with organic foods and vegetables and that she personally would cook him dinner every night, a promise she has kept.
So, it should come as no surprise that this humble giant of a man believes his heart attack was a true blessing.
“It was a trifecta,” said Richardson. “If I hadn’t had the heart attack then I never would have known about the cancer and I never would have had the best Pittsburgh oncologist, Dr. Marks!”
Follicular Lymphoma, 2004
Large B-cell Lymphoma, 2008
When your life is placed in someone else’s hands, it’s hard to describe the feelings and the emotions and then the relationship that develops over time.
That’s how cancer survivor, Barb Bowser describes her doctor and now friend, Dr. Stanley Marks.
“I have heartfelt gratitude and I admire him tremendously,” said Barb Bowser.
Barb Bowser gets emotional when speaking of Dr. Stanley Marks, a man she met 14 years ago when she was suddenly diagnosed with cancer. She didn’t know where to turn. As she and her husband, Gary, sat with their two sons, Gary and Kurt, all of them shocked and devastated at the news, it was a mutual friend that led them Dr. Marks.
“We called Dr. Marks on a Friday about seeing me and he had me in his office that Monday,” said Barb. “He didn’t even know me. We were all so grateful and still are today.”
It was 2004 and after six months of tests, Barb was diagnosed with Follicular Lymphoma, a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. A cancerous tumor was found in her intestines. After surgery and chemotherapy, Barb’s cancer was in remission for 4 years.
“I remember the day as if it was yesterday,” said Barb. “I was headed out to play golf and the phone rang. I almost didn’t answer it but walked back in. It was Stanley telling me the cancer was back and again in my intestines.”
The diagnosis this time was Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma, an aggressive type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The process for battling this cancer was more intense and once again included surgery followed by chemotherapy. Barb also underwent painful bone marrow testing.
On January 20, 2009, Dr. Marks delivered good news. Barb’s cancer was gone.
“I have tears right now thinking about the last 14 years and everything that has happened to me,” said Barb. “Stanley is always there for me as he is for all of his patients. I trust him fully and I am blessed to have him in my life and as my oncologist.”
As with most cancer patients, this diagnosis changes a person. Barb said it made her sit up and think about her life and how she wanted to live.
“I have been married to the love of my life, Gary, for almost 49 years,” she said. “In addition to my sons, Gary and Kurt, I also have two wonderful daughters-in-law, Lisa and Amy, who have given me eight grandchildren. All of them have supported me immensely. My mission is to be there for them and Dr. Stanley Marks has helped me get this far.”