Archive for Thursday, August 8, 2002

Cancer throws coach a curve ball

August 8, 2002

Just a few months ago, life was rolling along for the family of youth baseball and soccer coach Rob Mathern.

Rob and his wife, Lisa, were either busy with the typical family outings, volunteering for church events, and, of course, the ball teams he coached.

But then a curve ball was thrown into their routine and has made the near future a mystery. He was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor last month.

"When I first found out, it was the scariest moment of my life," he said as he fought back tears. "It's over. 'People don't survive that,' I thought."

Mathern, a lead lineman for Rylie Construction in Kansas City, Kan., was preparing to have his annual physical in order to maintain his commercial driver's license.

Instead of going to his usual work physician, Mathern opted to see Jim Boyes, a physician's assistant in Olathe, because he was experiencing headaches, weight gain and other irregularities.

Blood work revealed a low amount of the hormones produced in the pituitary gland.

As a result of the tests, Boyes informed him he had either a typical hormone imbalance or possibly a pituitary tumor and suggested an MRI.

After a short vacation to Montana for a family reunion Mathern organized and a lot of time to think he went into Diagnostic Imagery of Olathe for the MRI July 10. That same night Boyes called him with the results.

Mathern's shock was mirrored in Lisa's feelings of helplessness.

"Sitting there it was like seeing a car coming right at you and knowing you were going to crash into it, knowing there wasn't anything you could do to avoid it," she said. "Then I started thinking over and over again, 'Be strong for Rob...Be strong for Rob.'"

Even now it's hard for Mathern to think about it.

"It's not that I don't think about it," he said. "It's there, and I know it's there. I just couldn't imagine my kids, as selfish as it may be, growing up without me."

Helping the Matherns cope is the awareness they are not in the ordeal alone. During the past few weeks, the couple and their children have felt the love and compassion of their family, friends and community. Mathern's family, as well as his wife's family, have contacted them every day with prayers, words of encouragement, cards and poems. They want everyone to know they appreciate all of the encouragement.

According to Mathern, he has not paid for or made a meal since the middle of July.

Especially helpful was friend and neighbor Kim Frieling, who handled phone calls and kept the community informed of what was going on while the Matherns were out of town.

When Boyes first informed the couple of the seriousness of Mathern's condition, they returned home, had a good cry and prayed.

"It's all been wonderful news since then," Mathern said.

Soon, the couple was faced with making decisions on how to fight the tumor and where to have it done. The Matherns opted for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Mathern wasn't assured of the decision to go to Rochester at first. But after a lot of prayer and consulting with neurologists and endocrinologists as well as family, Mathern was ready to give it a try.

He met with the endocrinologist first and started three days of blood work July 15.

After a short weekend back in De Soto and a prayer vigil, the Matherns headed back to Rochester to see the neurologist. And according to Mathern, he was exuding confidence.

"He said, I removed 90 percent of these, and I remove them all," Mathern said. "But I give you a 50-50 chance of getting it all. I got a lot of respect out of that."

Mathern has decided to go along with the endocrinologist and try bromocryptine, a medicine that controls and shrinks the tumor.

He will go back to diagnostic imagery for blood work in mid-October, and then back to the Mayo Clinic in mid-December. The goal is to shrink the tumor so doctors can go in later and remove it all.

He is working his way up to 35 milligrams of the medicine a day after starting off at 1.25 milligrams about three weeks ago. The coach took his first three pill dosage last Sunday and is presently at 7.5 milligrams a day.

According to Mathern, it is suspected he has had the tumor the slow-growing tumor for 10 years.

Eyesight is a huge concern when it comes to tumors of this sort, but tests confirm his eyesight is fine. He has had three vision tests done through the past few weeks and still has better than 20-20 vision.

For Lisa, the feeling of helplessness remains.

"On Sunday nights he ups his medicine and doesn't sleep much because he has such excruciating head aches and is very nauseated," she said. "It's tough to lie next to the man you love and not be able to take any of that pain away from him."

She also has a difficult time distinguishing whether a headache is just a regular headache, or one that's caused by the tumor or the medicine.

"I have to try to determine whether he needs to go to the emergency room or if we should stay home. It's hard to know how badly he's hurting because he doesn't want me to know that."

According to Lisa, the kids have all been wonderful but have also struggled with their dad's battle.

"Our oldest, Derrick, asked his dad if he was going to die," she recalled. "Rob said no. Derrick said, 'Just as long as you don't die, Dad,' and broke down and cried."

The Mathern Care Fund is set up at Team Bank in De Soto. Anyone interested in donating to the fund can contact the bank at 913-583-3004.

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