Retired Ridgewood doctor and the Internet help save a life 8,000 miles away


We hear plenty about the horrors of social media and how it has contributed to the decline of interpersonal skills among millennials. But because of Facebook, a 54-year-old woman named Diana Craig from Auckland, New Zealand is alive today, and I am so proud to share the story.

In early 2018, Diana was diagnosed with oropharyngeal (throat) cancer that spread to her lymph nodes in the neck. She underwent two extensive surgeries and radiation therapy. After a long recovery process, she thought she had finally beat cancer.

But like many who achieve remission, Diana’s battle had only just begun. I know this feeling because I am the longest living survivor of salivary duct carcinoma and have been battling cancer since 2002.

I diagnosed myself and managed my own care plan when doctors I consulted failed to do so. I wrote Swimming Upstream: My Struggle and Triumph Over Cancer and the Medical Establishment about my cancer journey and I commiserated with Diana’s dire situation. Seventeen years ago, my doctors gave me a 30% chance of surviving for two years. Through perseverance, my own medical knowledge, and an out-of-the-box thinking, I am alive today.

Since my retirement in 2008, I spend all my free time helping other cancer patients through mentoring, support, education, and advocacy. I am a frequent advisor for a head and neck cancer support group and serve on the board of directors for Patient Empowerment Network (PEN), a 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to empower cancer patients with the knowledge and tools to boost their confidence and put them in control of their healthcare journey.

A routine follow-up in May revealed the cancer had returned in Diana’s right lung and the lymph nodes in her chest. Diana said her oncologist told her she had 6 to 24 months to live and that although she could be treated with chemotherapy or immunotherapy, the odds of success were incredibly small.

Desperate for help, she found an online Facebook group called the Head and Neck Cancer Support Aotearoa and posted her story. Diana and I discussed her case and diagnosis informally through Facebook, email, and phone calls. We maintained frequent contact as she sought my advice at every turn; we had become friends and co-conspirators endeavoring to save her life.

I recommended a second opinion from a more aggressive oncologist who agreed with my suggestion that she should undergo further testing to determine whether she would benefit the immunotherapy drug Keytruda. Soon after, her test results came back with the encouraging news that she had a good chance of responding well to Keytruda combined with specialized radiation therapy.

On Aug. 28, 2019, Diana heard the news she was waiting for: She was cancer-free!

After retiring from 30 years of medical practice, I never thought that I would save another life — especially not a stranger living 8,000 miles away. Miraculously — and thanks to social media — that’s exactly what happened.

By Sajjad Iqbal, who ran a pediatric practice in Ridgewood NJ for 35 years.

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