In June, Christy Little and her family traveled to MD Anderson from Birmingham, Ala., for treatment for her stepfather. What could have been an overwhelming and confusing experience became a journey of surprising joy and hope as the family encountered generous and resilient fellow patients and encouraging staff members. This is the first part of a reminiscence she sent to Cancerwise. The second part will appear on July 27th.
During the past few months, my family has faced a serious challenge.
In March, my stepdad of 18 years was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare, incurable bile duct cancer.
After seeing several doctors in Birmingham, we were told there was no hope beyond a small dose of palliative chemotherapy to give him a little extra time.
We were looking at a few months to no more than a year.
We heard plenty of "I'm so sorrys." Saw many nods of the head.
For our family, this was unacceptable. We understood the difficulties we were facing but were not ready to throw in the towel. We set out to overcome. I say "we" because when cancer strikes, it not only affects the patient, but everyone involved.
So as a family, we fought.
Research yields glimmer of hope
We decided to get other opinions, investigate other treatment options. One name kept coming up -- MD Anderson in Houston. Our research agreed it was the best in the country for this type of cancer.
On June 2, I made preliminary calls to see whether, with my stepfather's varied health issues and insurance requirements, he could be accepted as a patient.
I got a glimmer of hope when the MD Anderson staff appeared so concerned and helpful.
I took the news to my stepdad and mom, and we decided to pursue this option.
On Friday, June 3, I made the call with my stepdad to get the process started.
That's when we met our first MD Anderson angel. Her name was LaKeshia and she was a doll.
She started a file on him and told us exactly what medical records were needed to present to the clinic to get him accepted. We quickly gathered his medical records and faxed them to LaKeshia first thing Monday morning, then waited.
We were told it would take up to five business days before a decision. If he was accepted, they would set up his appointment and schedule.
Cholangiocarcinoma is a very aggressive, fast-growing cancer, so waiting was difficult, but we still felt this was the way to go.
By Thursday June 9, we got the call that he was accepted, then received the email to be at MD Anderson Monday morning, June 13, at 8 a.m.
We were thrilled, yet overwhelmed.
Angels offer help, smiles and shortcuts
So much to do -- booking flights, finding hotels with hospital shuttles and gathering more medical records.
Luckily, angels stepped in from everywhere, providing airfare, directing us to hotels and offering crucial information.
First thing Sunday, we took off.
Our entourage consisted of:
my stepdad, the patient;
my mom, the worrier;
my daughter Alexis, the teenage drama queen; and
me, the luggage toter/wheelchair pusher/sweet tea maker/overall pack mule.
We each had our role and rarely strayed from it.
I apologize to anyone who came into our line of fire during our travels.
At some point, Mom and Alexis may have cut you off as something shiny caught their eye, not caring that they stepped on your freshly baked pita sandwich.
It's quite possible that I rammed my stepdad's wheelchair into your shins -- and I'm sorry.
But we had 42 pieces of luggage, my stepdad in the wheelchair, and Mom and Alexis darting about like fireflies on a summer night.
I was left to my own devices, and it was beyond taxing.
So: sorry, sorry, sorry!
Finally, we checked into our hotel and got settled and prepared for our encounter with MD Anderson Cancer Center, part of the world's largest medical center with over 100,000 visitors a year.