Archive for Thursday, June 19, 2003

Cancer on the family plan

Atchisons provide lesson in heeding body changes

June 19, 2003

Bob and Pat Atchison like to do things together.

They run their De Soto business, Performance Glass, as a team. Their favorite leisure-time activity was taking their camper on trips near and far. They golf together and jointly watch the grandchildren participate in athletic activities. They share volunteer hours for De Soto Cinco de Mayo and Watermelon (now De Soto Days) festivals.

Friday, Bob and Pat will make the survivors' lap of the De Soto Relay for Life side by side, symbolic of a bit of bonding the two would have rather not shared. This last year, both Bob and Pat were diagnosed with cancers that required surgeries and chemotherapy treatments.

The traumatic year began in October when Bob went to his physiapy treatments.

The traumatic year began in October when Bob went to his physician because of frequent bowel movements and chronic fatigue.

"I thought I was just getting old," he said. "We just take it for granted cancer is never going to happen to us."

A colonoscopy revealed the true reason was a tumor growing on the outside of his colon. The fatigue was the result of anemia brought on by blood loss. It was not an entirely unexpected diagnosis. Bob said two of his father's brothers died of colon cancer.

Acting on the subtle symptoms spared Bob from his uncles' fates, he and Pat said. The fist-sized, stage-four cancer surgeons removed would have been fatal had he procrastinated.

"It wouldn't have been long at stage four before it got in the lymph glands," Bob said.

As it was, Bob endured six months of chemotherapy. Just days before his sessions were to end in April, Pat went to her physician about symptoms of lower-back pain associated with bowel movements. Unsatisfied with her doctor's suggestion that she carefully monitor what he said were cysts on her ovaries, Pat sought another opinion that led to surgery. During an eight-hour operation complicated by fibrous growth from an earlier surgery, surgeons removed both of Pat's ovaries. One was cancerous.

"What are the odds of that happening to both of us in that time?" Bob asked. "I didn't think she'd ever have cancer. She didn't have cancer in her family like I did. It doesn't matter. It can happen to anyone."

The fibrous scar tissue was the cause of Pat's lower-back pain, not cancer.

"If I wouldn't have had pain the back, I wouldn't went to doctor," Pat said. "Without cysts, I wouldn't have had the operation. Without the operation, they wouldn't have found the cancer. I just feel like God was looking out for me."

As it was the discovered cancer was a stage-one cancer with grade-one cells. Ovarian cancer found at that stage has a 95 percent five-year survival rate, Pat said. That rate decreases to 20 percent for stage three and 5 percent for stage four, she said.

The lesson she and Bob learned the last year was the importance of paying attention to their bodies, Pat said.

"If you notice any changes in your body, have them checked out, especially if they have to do with your kidneys or bowels," Pat said. "Men in particular tend to ignore any changes.

"I think a lot women think they would be deemed a hypochondriac if they complain too much. People will get a second opinion on for their car, but wouldn't think to get an opinion from another doctor. It's your body. Nobody knows it better than you do."

Pat's cancer was much less advanced than Bob's. But as a precaution, she decided to undergo chemotherapy. Pat experienced several tough days after her first round of chemotherapy last week, in contrast to her husband.

"I never did get sick," Bob said. "I never did have to take the anti-nausea drugs. I didn't even have hair loss."

Still, Bob admitted the surgery and therapy was difficult.

"If I could go through it for m wife, I'd do it in a minute," he said. "Other than that, it's not something I'd want to do everyday."

Bob and Pat credit their Christian faith and extended family with helping them cope with the fears and ordeals of the last eight months.

"They tell me its 50 percent doctors and 50 percent faith," Bob said. "Faith is an important part of it -- all the prayers said for me. I think that worked in my case.

"It's pretty humbling, too, to have so many people care about you."

After their tough year, the Atchisons look to the future with optimism.

"The doctors tell me there's a 77 percent chance I never have a re-occurrence," he said. "I don't think I will. I just feel too good."

"I think Pat will be able to lick it, too."

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