Soccer team in a huddle

COPE-ing with Cancer

June 2, 2015 by Stephan Magura 0

After fighting cancer for many years, SAP colleague Franz Deitering has taken back control of his life.

Franz is looking good. His face is suntanned and stands in stark contrast to his nearly snow white hair. His healthy color could have come from the half marathon he ran at the beginning of May right after returning from SAPPHIRE NOW. As always, he ran at a moderate speed with a steady heart rate. All that matters is to have fun during the run. That alone is a great victory for Franz, who is missing 70 percent of his right lung.

52-year-old Franz knows cancer on a personal level, having lived through the roller coaster of hope and fear himself. The nightmare began in 2006 when his wife Mila was diagnosed with breast cancer. Operation, chemotherapy and radiation: The family – including his now 17-year-old daughter – had to learn how to cope with this.

“You try to help any way you can,” says Franz. “But you still feel helpless.”

How are Franz, NCT, COPE, Molecular Health, and SAP connected? The following video explains it all.

Just as Mila had recovered, he was hit with the next shock: While running some tests in 2008, doctors discovered a walnut-sized tumor in his intestine. In the ensuing operation, surgeons removed 20 centimeters of his intestine. Specialists prescribed 12 cycles of chemotherapy.

“I can beat this,” Franz told himself, true to his fundamentally optimistic nature.

But the nightmare did not end there. By September 2009, metastases had formed in his liver. His life was dangling from a single thread.

“I lost control back then,” Franz recalls. “For the first time, I began to fear for my life.”

He decided for a rehab period. Though the surgical procedure to remove a large part of his liver was successful, the tale of woes was not over yet. 2011: More parts of the infested liver had to be cut out. Spring 2012: His right lung was infected. Two-thirds had to be removed, followed by another round of chemotherapy. At the same time, doctors discovered five altered lymph nodes in his stomach. Another operation, more chemotherapy and rehab. Fall 2014: A further lymph node tumor, this time a mere three centimeters above his heart. Yet another operation ensued.

Better chances with personalized medicine

That was the last incident to date. Franz feels okay now. He seems strong. Apart from the operation scars along his upper body, there are no visible traces of the hardships he lived through these past years.

Unfortunately, Franz cannot be certain that he has defeated the cancer for good. So last November, when Franz read about SAP’s offer to pay for the tumor DNA sequencing of employees who were plagued by cancer, he immediately grabbed hold of the opportunity.

The data collected with the help of medical company Molecular Health helps doctors devise a treatment plan specifically adapted to the individual patients. So far, SAP has launched COPE (Corporate Oncology Program for Employees) in the two pilot countries Germany and the United States.

Franz: “I discussed the offer with my doctor, Professor Dirk Jaeger from the NCT in Heidelberg, and he recommended I do it.”

The renowned National Center for Tumor Diseases is known for its excellent patient care. “Until now, cancer treatment was based on purely empirical data. This means, for example, that there is a fixed therapy for colon tumors at a certain stage,” explains Jaeger. With MolecularHealth and SAP’s new approach, he thinks it would be possible to treat individual diseases with individual therapies. “Of course, we are still at an experimental stage,” he clarifies quickly. But he sees a great opportunity in treating cancer patients more efficiently and effectively in the future. This would also significantly reduce medication-induced side effects.

Franz received his results from the COPE program at the start of spring. To participate, his doctor had to send in Franz’s blood and tissue samples. Even though the results did not require any changes in his treatment so far, Franz is very satisfied. “I think it is amazing that SAP and Molecular-Health are using their technology to research new treatment options. I feel well prepared. Should the cancer ever return, we can be sure that we have the best possible strategy in place to beat it.” This is why he strongly recommends COPE to all affected colleagues.

The journey is the reward

When asked if his sickness changed him, Franz answered that he had a lot of time to think during his stays at health resorts. During one of these recuperation periods, he discovered a Buddhist monastery quite by accident. At the time, they were giving a speech about “Cancer in the eyes of Buddhism.” This was an incentive for him to look more closely into Buddhism. It has since influenced Franz’s spiritual life, and he has also changed his diet and started going to acupuncture treatment regularly.

Franz lives in the here and now. He has rediscovered himself after living through those terrible times. Mindfulness and gratitude have become an essential part of his life. His eyes light up when he talks about the incredible support he received from friends, colleagues, and especially family, who were always there for him. Very special thanks go to the NCT and Professor Jaeger.

Franz pays much more attention to what he does with his time now than he used to. Paragliding is one example. “I had always dreamed of learning to fly,” Franz says. Now he is finally making it come true. By the time I’ve written these lines, Franz will have already headed off to Meduno with his flying equipment to glide down from the mountain peaks.

Despite the flying, he has remained very grounded. Franz loves his work. He has been working at SAP for 20 years, first as head of HR development, later in sales, business development, and now in solution management. If it were up to him, he would keep it this way for as long as he still enjoys his work and is able to do a good job. However, he has also become more resolute at work and as global head of SAP’s shared services solutions no longer takes on just any project.

Our conversation comes to an end and we meet his wife Mila, also an SAP colleague. Franz wants to go for a run now, which is why he came to the interview in sportswear. He jogs two to three times a week on the advice of NCT.

But maybe not today after all – the weather is just too nice. “Maybe I should relax on the terrace instead,” he quips.

Franz is well on his way – with the occasional short break.

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