By Ken Birt
Ken Birt's wife, Pat, was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer more than two years ago. What could have been a devastating prognosis became a journey of comfort and hope.
At our engagement party on Dec. 27, 2009, we never realized the journey that our lives would take together during the following two years.
In February 2009, I decided to move nearer to Pat in southeast Missouri. She had been suffering from some pain for a year or more, but all the colonoscopies showed no growths.
That February, just two days after I joined Pat, a growth the size of a grapefruit was discovered outside the colon. Surgery was performed at the local hospital, removing two feet of colon.
After the procedure, I asked the surgeon about her prognosis. He answered, "Not good." I asked, "Not good, as in terminal?" He responded, "Yes, she has stage IV colon cancer and even though I think I removed all the malignant growth, the life expectancy for this cancer is a year."
We were devastated, but we didn't give up. Six months after her 10 days in the hospital, Pat began chemotherapy treatments. During a PET scan, they found another growth the size of a lemon that required surgery and 16 more days in the hospital.
We maintained our faith in her recovery with the help of family, friends and our pastor.
Pat had another PET scan. Our oncologist missed the second page of the results, where it was reported that Pat had two more inoperable growths dangerously close to her aorta.
The oncologist seemed to be at a loss as to how to proceed. I asked, "Is it time for us to get a referral to another hospital?" He responded that he would refer and asked where would we like to go? I immediately said, "MD Anderson in Houston." Our oncologist began the referral process immediately.
Dealing with the best
In December 2010, we made our first trip to Houston. We were overwhelmed with MD Anderson. Everyone was so helpful, so caring.
As a retired minister, I had been in dozens of hospitals and dealt with numerous staff members. This hospital is like nothing I have ever experienced. Our oncologist at MD Anderson, Dr. Rachna Shroff was outstanding. She had full tests run and prescribed chemotherapy.
We left feeling we were dealing with the best.
We returned to MD Anderson every three months. Although the two growths had reduced, Dr. Shroff was not comfortable with continued chemo.
By then, Pat had already received 24 treatments. We left this trip feeling discouraged.
While we were in a hotel during our trip home, Dr. Shroff called. She said that she had shared Pat's records with a radiation oncologist, and he felt he could kill the remaining growths. We were asked to return to Houston in two weeks and be prepared to stay for six weeks.
Upon our return to Houston, we met Dr. Prajnan Das, the radiation oncologist. We were just as impressed with him and his staff as we were with Dr. Shroff and her assistant, Rhonda.
Our trip to MD Anderson lasted 2 1/2 months and MD Anderson was even helpful with finding an apartment for us to rent. Pat took 29 radiation treatments as well as oral chemo, Monday through Friday, for six weeks. We left Houston with Pat feeling good but nervous about the report that would be forthcoming upon her return in six weeks.
This October, we returned to Houston. Dr. Shroff was amazed that not only were there no new growths, but that the two existing ones had gotten smaller. She said that this result was rare.
We left Houston elated and certain that the next visit would prove no new growths.
We attribute MD Anderson with saving Pat's life. She is feeling great now and is totally back to normal. We have scheduled our honeymoon cruise that was delayed due to the treatments. It will be a celebration of more than just our marriage.
We owe a lot to Dr. Shroff, Dr. Das and Rhonda. However, we'd be remiss if we didn't also mention the excellent technicians that supported Pat through the radiation. Travis, Joann and Claudia were outstanding.
We both shed tears as Pat celebrated the completion of her radiation treatments by ringing a bell.
Thank you, MD Anderson.
We now advise everyone we meet who has been diagnosed with cancer not to pass go, not to collect $200, but immediately get a referral to MD Anderson. They are the best!