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Among Friends - Ruth Keller

Promise -

Editor’s note: Ruth U. Keller of Asheville, N.C., and formerly of Maitland, Fla., has generously opened her home on occasion for events to raise awareness of MD Anderson’s research and patient care initiatives. Here she relates the cancer journey she shared with her late husband, William H. Keller, and her motivation to support the institution’s mission to eradicate cancer.

By Ruth U. Keller
I could go on forever with case histories of friends I’ve referred to MD Anderson, men and women who’ve been treated for bladder, breast, kidney, esophageal and other cancers. We’re so thankful there’s an MD Anderson, because we know it’s the best. You see, my late husband,
Bill, was a patient there. Words can’t express my gratitude for the staff at MD Anderson. They were wonderful to us. I hope my story will inspire those with cancer to visit the No. 1 cancer center in the world.

Bill’s journey

In February 1999, my husband was notified by his internist in Florida that he had prostate cancer. Bill was sent immediately to a urologist in Orlando. I had read about MD Anderson and asked him to go there. He refused, insisting the local doctors were good enough.
The urologist offered a choice of radiation or surgery and gave us a week to decide. I didn’t want to influence Bill in any way, so I remained silent, hoping he would choose surgery.
When we returned to the urologist, I was relieved to hear Bill opt for surgery. It took place in June 1999. Later we received a call that the cancer had spread and that Bill needed to start radiation. I pleaded with him to go to MD Anderson for another opinion, asking him to go for me. Bill agreed, and I called and made an appointment. This was in early July.
Our daughter, Priscilla, decided to fly to Houston with us.
At MD Anderson, Bill underwent three days of examinations, and a team of doctors evaluated his case. We met with Dr. Shi-Ming Tu (associate professor of genitourinary medical oncology), who informed us that radiation would merely do additional damage. Neither Bill nor I
heard him say that Bill had two years to live. Our daughter, however, did.
In October Dr. Tu told us about a new experimental program at MD Anderson but was concerned that we lived too far away. I told him that distance meant nothing. He said it was a “blind” study — we wouldn’t know whether Bill was receiving the placebo or the real drug.
I said we’d take our chances.
Bill went through the study with no problems. He entered a second program with stronger medication. Bill did fine, until his checkup in April 2007. We were living in Asheville, N.C., at the time. His PSA was elevated and the oncologist in Asheville suggested chemotherapy or radiation. Bill declined treatment, knowing he would probably live only a year or so.

A day of memories

On Dec. 8, 2008, Bill was moved from our home to hospice care.
That day, he started talking about the first time he saw me, at a church in Washington, D.C., across from the White House. I had attended a dance for servicemen with a girlfriend. It was my first and only visit. My girlfriend had promised no dates — we’d go straight home after
the dance. I was a blonde and wore a red dress. This was in 1942 during World War II, and servicemen would line up to break in on the girls. When my girlfriend and I were getting our coats to go home, she told me that she had accepted a double date after the dance. Though I was
annoyed, I went along. Then I met Bill and from that moment we were in love.
As he was dying, Bill talked about how he’d admired me on the dance floor, and how, since he didn’t dance, he didn’t believe we’d ever have the opportunity to meet or that I would fall in love with him. It was so touching that he would relate this story on his deathbed. He asked that his ashes be saved and mixed with mine to be spread in our garden, which our daughters have promised to do.
He died at 1:30 a.m. in my arms. He left me with such a beautiful feeling for the joy
we’ve shared for more than 65 years.
Who could be more fortunate than I?

Promise - Fall 2009

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center