SAN FRANCISCO -- A cancer diagnosis is something that's difficult to prepare for, if not impossible. One retired Bay Area doctor uses his expertise to ease the recently diagnosed out of that initial period of shock.
"When people get a diagnosis of cancer, it's an earth-shattering thing," said retired oncologist Dr. Howard Kleckner.
Kleckner, who was Hematology and Oncology Chief at Kaiser Permanente Hayward/Fremont, says that's why most patients only hear about half of what doctors tell them.
So some patients turn to Dr. Kleckner and thesecondopinion, the 53-year-old San Francisco-based nonprofit he leads.
It gives free second opinions for California cancer patients and their families, especially those in underserved communities, to give them peace of mind.
"We make ourselves available to everyone, whether they have insurance or they don't," said Kleckner.
The nonprofit conducts about 120 second opinions every year. A panel of three medical professionals reviews each case and meets with patients and their family to answer specific questions.
The in-person consultations moved to Zoom in the pandemic, expanding their reach statewide.
Gladys Monroy and her husband, Larry Marks, turned to Kleckner with questions about her chemotherapy treatment.
"It's comforting to know that a group of doctors actually agreed with my oncologist," Monroy said.
"Howard is the ideal person to have the scientific as well as the empathy to treat and counsel cancer patients," added Marks, who is a board member of thesecondopinion.
LEARN MORE: Jefferson Awards for Public Service
Review panel chair Dr. Susan Lessin says Kleckner ensures each patient gets the information and emotional support they need.
"Dr. Kleckner is really the heart and soul of thesecondopinion. He's very inspirational. He's warm. He's kind. He listens," Lessin said.
Kleckner also expanded the nonprofit in his 12 years as medical director. He's increased outreach, private donor funding, and recruitment, so some 70 medical professionals now volunteer for the panels.
And for patients who can't wait two to three weeks for a formal review, he's started phone consultations that help about 50 patients a year.
"We may not have said anything different than what they were told before, but sometimes they understood it for the first time," Dr. Kleckner said. "And they go away, reassured, back to their doctor, that what they're doing is the right thing."
Patients do not need a doctor's referral to get a free second opinion, and there are translators for Spanish and Chinese. You can find more information at thesecondopinion.org. Applications are processed via e-mail at email@example.com or on the phone at 415-775-9956.
So for making sure that every California cancer patient has access to a free second opinion, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Dr. Howard Kleckner.
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