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People Profile: Second Opinion, Second Chance

Network - Winter 2009

By Mary Brolley

In April 1998, a physician gave Dorothy Koch sobering news. “He said I had stage IV lung cancer — and just a few months to live. He said no treatment could help me,” Koch says.

Dorothy Koch

A longtime smoker whose husband had died three years earlier of lung cancer, Koch was crushed but resigned to the grim prognosis.

Her five children, however, wouldn’t hear of it.

“They dragged me in for a second opinion,” she says. “They wouldn’t drop it.”

That is how, in the spring of 1998, Koch met her first doctor at M. D. Anderson, Fadlo Khuri, M.D. He was running a clinical trial for lung cancer patients that he thought could help her live longer and maintain a good quality of life.

For more than 10 years, Koch, who quit smoking after her diagnosis, has thrived despite her illness. M. D. Anderson physicians and nursing staff have encouraged her through several clinical trials. The quality of care and attention she’s received has made her a believer in the institution.

“I have never been a number — never,” she says.

In fact, Koch has formed warm relationships with her medical staff, especially Edward Kim, M.D., and research nurse Rainell Schaerer. “They are the most caring, loving people. I would miss them if I wasn’t going any more,” she says.

Offering hope

Through the Anderson Network Telephone Support Line, Koch reaches out to give hope and encouragement to others facing a lung cancer diagnosis. The support line, now in its 21st year, matches newly diagnosed patients with survivors of the same disease. Koch, recently named 2008 Telephone Networker of the Year, has spoken to dozens of patients from all over Texas and around the country.

She is invigorated by these conversations. “It’s amazing how much patients hold on to hope, even when life is difficult,” she says. “As hard as it is, most are still willing to fight the fight.”

Being a longtime survivor gives her a special perspective, she says. “When they talk to me, they might think, ‘Somebody out there has made it. Maybe I have a chance, too.’”

It’s obvious that part of Koch’s secret is a lively sense of humor. She jokes about her initial reluctance to seek a second opinion, her constant bantering with her medical team, even M. D. Anderson’s comprehensive approach to taking care of its patients.

“Since I was first treated, I’ve had my hip and one of my shoulders replaced there. I tell them, ‘First you fixed my cancer, now you’re fixing the rest of me.’”

Koch also is profoundly thankful for support from her children and their spouses, close friends and members of her Bible study group.

“Ten years ago, when I agreed to start treatment, my children said I would never have to worry about how I would get to or from M. D. Anderson from my home in Victoria.”

“They’ve been shuffling me for 10 years now,” she adds, laughing.

They are, no doubt, grateful for the privilege.

To learn more about the Anderson Network Telephone Support Line, see the article Would You Share Your Cancer Experience? in this issue.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center