Ken Cornell: The Patient

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Ken Cornell is the general superintendent at JE Dunn Construction. He was been with JE Dunn for a little over five years and has worked in the construction industry for 38 years. He has a degree in construction engineering and has done lab and hospital construction work for the past 28 years. He is currently working on the construction of the new Health Sciences Research Building II (HSRBII). 

Can you give an overview of how you got into construction, specifically the construction of medical and research facilities?

I have a degree in construction engineering. That is my initial start in construction. I always wanted to do work in healthcare and laboratory work. I did my first medical job in 1993 in Washington DC with a small contractor. Once I got my foot in the door, I’ve been doing this kind of work ever since. My first research laboratory job in 2005. It was a lab for NIH/National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Disease.

When were you first diagnosed with prostate cancer and what was your treatment?

I was diagnosed in October of 2008. I was at my general practitioner and my prostate-specific antigen level (PSA) started to rise, so he suggested that I see a urologist and referred me to the Brady Urological Institute at Johns Hopkins. I had a biopsy in October and was diagnosed in December.

How was FACBC involved with your treatment?

Once I was diagnosed, I did a lot of research and ended up at the University of Pennsylvania. There, I had a prostatectomy where they remove the prostate and the surrounding lymph nodes. I was cancer-free for five years. By that time, I went from Baltimore to California to settling in Atlanta. During that time, I would still go back to see my surgeon. At the five-year mark, my doctor said that my PSA had started to rise, which indicates that the cancer is back. At that time, he said that I needed to see a radiation oncologist. I lived close to Emory, so I went there and saw a doctor at the Emory Winship Cancer Institute.

Ken Cornell photo

Ken Cornell photo

During the first visit, the doctor asked me if I would mind doing a clinical trial. And I said sure, if it helps me or helps other people, I would be glad to do it. I did the trial and had the injection before the radiation. They did the scan and noticed some cancer close to the bladder, and I received radiation in that area. If they had seen it spread to other areas, I would have received treatment in other areas. At that point in time, I did a 7-and-a-half-week regimen of radiation treatment. Once I did that, they check your PSA every three months and it started to go down as expected. After 2 years, it started to rise again. At that point in time, my doctor put me on a regiment of different over-the-counter treatments that drove the PSA down again. Another 2 years passed, and it started going up again.

I asked again about the FACBC at that time, and they said it had just been approved by the FDA and my insurance would cover it. They injected me with the radiotracer and did the scan. They noticed that the cancer had traveled to the lymph nodes in my stomach. I was put on hormone therapy and they were able to isolate the cancer in the lymph nodes. At that time, I received another 5 weeks of radiation. Since that treatment, which will be two years from December 2020, I have been cancer-free. I have had zero tumor markers or a rise in PSA for the last six of seven visits. I feel that FACBC it has helped me out immensely. I did not go into the clinical trial thinking that it would be a cure for me. I thought that it may help me, but as long as it helped other people down the line it would be worth it. It came full circle.

Can you walk me through the new HSRB building construction process and what will the new radiopharmacy suite be like?

The construction started in September of 2019. Right now, we are at the point where we are starting on the structure. We are starting to go up 6 floors, with two more floors underground level. The new radiopharmacy suite is going to be on level G2, which is the last floor in the basement. In this area, there will be cyclotrons and hot cells. The cyclotrons produce the radiation that is sent through tubes to the hot cells, and the hot cells is where they make the radiotracers. The basement will also have the biorepository, where they will keep cell and tissue samples. They also have a number of imaging modalities throughout the suite. Right now, the existing cyclotron is over where Ron and Mark are currently working and will be moving over from. On the upper floors, floors 1 through 6, there will be research labs and office areas.

Can you tell me what it was like to meet and talk with Mark and Ron?

Ronald J. Crowe, RPh/BCNP is board-certified nuclear pharmacist at Emory University. He has practiced nuclear pharmacy since 1990 and has worked at Emory since 1997. He has worked with both the department of radiology and the School of Medicine and Imaging Core.

Mark Goodman, MD holds the Emory University Endowed Chair in Imaging Science, He is a Professor and Director of the Radiology and Imaging Sciences Radiopharmaceutical Discovery Laboratory. His research is directed towards the development of new radiotracers for the study and management of treatment of myocardial disorders, cancer, bacterial infections, cocaine addiction, mood, and psychomotor disorders.

We were about 6 months into the construction process and had just started the concrete foundations. I met Mark and Ron in a meeting that had to do with the Cyclotron and Hot Cells for the building. I happened to be sitting next to Ron in the meeting and we started talking about his role in clinical trials at Emory and I mentioned that I was in the FACBC trial when I 1st had radiation. Ron stated that he had made the radio isotopes that were used in my clinical trial. This was a very surreal moment because I like doing this type of work since it tends to help people, and this made me realize how this work helps people especially me.

Can you share with me what it’s like to be a cancer survivor and come back to work on a project that’s so closely related to that chapter of your life?

I have worked for 28 years in hospital and lab construction work. One of the reasons I like working in that is because I feel like I am helping people. I never thought I would be doing something that has helped me or working with people who had helped me. It has come full circle; it is almost surreal.

To learn more about prostate cancer click the links below:
American Cancer Center: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer/about.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/prostate/index.htm