Retired oncologist helps cancer patients get a free second opinion

SAN FRANCISCO – A cancer diagnosis is something that is difficult to prepare for, if not impossible. A retired Bay Area physician is using his expertise to ease the newly diagnosed out of the first period of shock.

“When people get a cancer diagnosis, it’s a worldwide thing,” said retired oncologist Dr. Howard Kleckner.

Kleckner, who was head of hematology and oncology 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 these Condopinion, the 53-year-old San Francisco-based nonprofit he leads.

It provides free second opinions to 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 not,” said Dr. Kleckner.

The nonprofit conducts about 120 second opinions each year. A panel of three doctors reviews each case and meets with patients and their families to answer specific questions.

The personal consultations moved to Zoom in the pandemic, expanding their reach across the country.

Gladys Monroy and her husband, Larry Marks, approached Dr. 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 advise cancer patients,” added Marks, who is a board member of thesecondopinion.

Dr. Susan Lessin says that Dr. Kleckner ensures that each patient receives the information and emotional support they need.

“Dr. Kleckner is truly the heart and soul of this mind. He is very inspiring. He is warm. He is kind. He listens,” said Dr. Kleckner. Lessin.

Kleckner also expanded the nonprofit organization during his 12 years as medical director. He has increased reach, private donor funding and recruitment, so about 70 medical professionals are now volunteering to join the panels.

And for patients who cannot wait two to three weeks for a formal review, he has started telephone consultations that help about 50 patients a year.

“We may not have said anything different from what they were told before, but sometimes they understood it for the first time,” said Dr. Kleckner. “And they go away, assured, back to their doctor that what they are doing is right.”

Patients do not need a doctor’s referral to get a free second opinion, and there are translators into Spanish and Chinese. You can find more information at thesecondopinion.org. Applications are processed by email at mail@thesecondopinion.org or by phone at 415-775-9956.

So to ensure 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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