What You Take from Cancer

By Gregory Pings, April 27, 2020
Professors and peers helped Scott Capozza ’98 get through cancer treatment and graduate with his classmates — now he works to help others.

When Scott Capozza ’98 was diagnosed with stage two testicular cancer while finishing his final year in IC’s physical therapy program, the treatment threatened to sabotage his plans for graduating.

“Can we wait until winter break?” Capozza asked his doctor when surgery was advised. “I don’t have time to deal with this.”

Final exams and a six-week clinical rotation loomed ahead. The doctor simplified his case: “If you don’t deal with the cancer right away, it will kill you.”

Except for the professors who had to know, Capozza did not tell anyone of his diagnosis — and when he did, he said as little as possible.

“Everybody was amazing — super supportive. I finished my academic work on time, despite missing four weeks.”

Scott Capozza '98

With finals on Monday and Tuesday, and surgery on Thursday, Capozza’s schedule held. For the upcoming clinical rotation, he vaguely advised his professor of a surgery and no heavy lifting. His rotation was adjusted accordingly.

Then the doctors discovered the cancer had spread, and Capozza would need a second surgery to remove lymph nodes near his kidneys. In-patient recovery was expected to last five days, so Capozza called in sick to be excused from class. However, complications extended his recovery to an entire month.

It was time to let everyone in on the secret.

IC People Step Up

“The director of the physical therapy program (Ernest Nalette) said we would figure this out,” Capozza recalled. “And, with his support, I told my classmates.”

With the second trimester of academic work lost, Capozza worked through his third trimester academic load while also making up the second trimester classes.

“Everybody was amazing — super supportive,” Capozza said. The professors gave him extra office hours, and his friends helped him study. “I finished my academic work on time, despite missing four weeks.”

His final clinical rotation was postponed due to chemotherapy treatments, but the college allowed Capozza to walk in graduation with his friends and complete his final clinical rotation the following fall.

“I was bald and trying to put weight back on when I graduated with my classmates,” Capozza recalled, but he was thankful to participate.

Silver Lining

Today, Capozza works at the Smilow Cancer Hospital Survivorship Clinic in New Haven, Connecticut, as part of a multidisciplinary team to address the many physical and emotional long-term effects of cancer. He is a member of the first-ever class of board-certified clinical specialists in oncology physical therapy.

“There are 69 of us in the United States,” he pointed out. “That number will grow.”

“Now doctors and therapists are able to discuss exercise as medicine.” 

Scott Capozza '98

The larger medical community is beginning to accept the idea that physical therapy is a vital part of cancer treatment. Studies have shown that exercise and rehabilitation can decrease the likelihood of lymphedema (swelling caused by removal of lymph nodes), fatigue, anxiety, and depression in cancer patients.

“Now doctors and therapists are able to discuss exercise as medicine,” Capozza explained.


Since Capozza is based in Connecticut, so close to New York City, his ability to see cancer patients has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. He had to cancel all appointments with his patients (due to government restrictions), because they were immune compromised and preliminary data showed that cancer survivors are 3.5 times more likely to die from COVID-19 complications.

“As much as I wanted to still work with my patients, and as much as they wanted to come in, it was the right move,” he said.

He has been connecting with patients by phone, updating their exercise programs and giving them as much moral support as he can. They are working to institute video telehealth, so he can see his patients and better assess their mobility concerns, making adjustments as needed in real time.

Meanwhile, he has been working in an in-patient setting at St. Raphael’s, another hospital within the Yale New Haven Health system. Yale’s Smilow Cancer Hospital moved three floors of cancer patients to St. Raphael’s because Smilow has negative pressure rooms to better control the spread of the virus. Now he sees oncology patients immediately after surgery as well as those who have been hospitalized to receive chemotherapy, as none of the rehab staff there have experience treating oncology patients.

“For me, it's been a steep learning curve as I haven't treated patients in the inpatient setting in 20 years, but we're working together to so that we can provide quality care for these patients in this uncertain time,” he said.

Capozza will give a rehab lecture to students in IC’s doctorate of physical therapy students virtually in May.