Twelve years ago, the week before Thanksgiving, I was diagnosed with Stage IV neuroendocrine cancer and told I had the proverbial six months left at best. As my former boss, the late Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus, would on occasion say, “there’s nothing like a hanging in the morning to focus one’s attention.” I focused fast.
This was of course stunning not the least reason being that my neurologist who had diagnosed five years earlier my Parkinson’s Disease, had told me a silver lining was that those with PD seldom contract cancer. One of my first calls was to him to let him know what a rare bird this patient was.
Like many couples and families do when receiving such news, we (My wife was trained as a Registered Nurse) read up as much as we could find of the literature on this form of cancer and on the facilities noted for the best practices in treating this always fatal disease.
Turned out that the best place to seek treatment was Houston’s M. D. Anderson Hospital. I drafted a note and enclosed copies of blood tests, MRI’s, PET scans, whole body scans, CT’s and cardiovascular work. I was absolutely floored when they declined to see me saying that the disease was too far along and there was nothing that could be done but to stay home and make my final preparations.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to bring this inexplicable denial to the facility’s attention. To their credit they looked into it, wrote me an apology, revised their admission protocol and even had the CEO send me a personal note.
The denial turned out to be a blessing in disguise for it created the opportunity for a friend of mine, Jay Shelledy, the then editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, to strongly recommend that I allow the relatively new Huntsman Cancer Center attached to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to be my primary treatment provider.
Shelledy was familiar with the Huntsman family and good friends with Jon Huntsman, Jr., a future Utah governor. So I flew to Salt Lake, met with the hospital’s chief of staff and the team assigned to me. Together we worked out an attack strategy.
Somewhere in my body, most likely in the colon, exists a generating tumor that periodically starts to significantly increase the production of this rare form of cancer cells. It can attack one, two or three vital organs: the liver, the heart and the lungs. In my case it was the liver and heart.
The most immediate threat was to my liver, covered with lesions and tumors almost to the point they could not be treated because the risk of liver failure was too high. My tricuspid valve was also starting to deteiorate, but that would be the second point of attack, and for addressing that it was decided I would go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
During 2006 I underwent three chemoembolization procedures at Huntsman which shattered almost all the tumors. I then underwent an experimental procedure whereby Yrtrium 90 radioactive pellets were placed on the shattered tumors and this appeared to stop temporarily the cancer from spreading rapidly. For two weeks though I was a hot dude literally.
Since then there have been relapses but mostly I’ve been able to manage well. I’ve had 15 sessions of targeted radiation, a bland embolization procedure,and my monthly chemo is a 40 mls shot of Octreotide that the drug company charges $17,000 for a shot.
Bottom line, though, is I’m still here and each morning I thank the good Lord for another day of life. As I reflect this Thanksgiving I wish to send a special thanks to the many people who through modern medicine to good old fashioned prayer have helped keep me alive: Jay Shelledy and Pat Shea, who introduced me to Huntsman; Dr. James Carlisle, my interventional radiologist at Huntsman; Dr. Joseph Rubin, my oncologist at Mayo; Dr. Robert Gersh, Dr. Robert Laugen, Dr. Maryann Parvez, my oncologists at Cancer Care Northwest; Dr. Chris Lee, my interventional radiologist at CCNW; Dr. Mark Wilson, my interventional radiologist at Deaconess; Dr. David Greeley, my neurologist at Northwest Neurology;
Dr. Michael Kwasman, my cardiologist at Sacred Heart; and Dr. Scott Spence, my general practitioner at Benewah Community Hospital.
Also, my friend, pastor, and fishing bud, Father Steve Dublinski, who is so patient with me during our weekly stalking of the wily cutthroat on the St. Joe. He is but one of many fine friends too numerous to list who call, send notes and offer encouragement.
Last, but not least is a loving and supportive family led by my wife of 47 wonderful years, who along with our three daughters, son, spouses and two grandchildren sustain me simply out of love I don’t deserve but gratefully accept. To all who care accept my heartfelt thanks.
A blessed Thanksgiving to all, and all glory to the Almighty.