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DARRYL BEERS: Lung Cancer Survivor
It’s not often that one can look back and be thankful for an illness. In Darryl Beers’ case, he’s glad he had a painful bile duct problem. It saved his life.
Beers, a 59-year-old Green Bay resident and Bellin Health patient, is a lung cancer survivor. “The fact that I’m around today, well, I feel very blessed, very fortunate.”
Beers’ doctor, Patrick Mansky, a board certified medical oncologist at The Cancer Team an Bellin Health, smiles at talk of his “fortunate” patient.
“Let’s just say we have some good technologies here that help best optimize our patients’ chances of recovery from cancer,” he said. “But we’re definitely happy for Darryl.”
Such technologies include the use of Rapid Arc radiation therapy that delivers quicker, pain-free, precise doses of radiation to cancerous tumors while minimizing damage to nearby healthy tissue, and the use of tests that examine a cancer patient’s breast, lung and colon tumors at a molecular level and give information about the specific behavior of the patient’s tumor. Such genetic testing can aid an oncologist in determining which treatment plan will most effectively prevent the cancer from returning. It also can aid the oncologist in controlling the disease.
Beers, a former yoga instructor, was diagnosed with Stage 3B lung cancer in February after intense abdominal pain forced him to seek medical attention.
“I went to the emergency room because of the pain,” Beers said. “They did an x-ray and a spot incidentally showed up on my lung. I had it checked out and was told I had tumors and Stage 3B lung cancer. They also said the cancer was large and inoperable.”
Beers said he’d never even felt any symptoms. “There was no reason for me to think there was anything wrong. The only symptoms I had were directly related to my bile duct problem, the reason I went to the doctor in the first place.”
It is not uncommon for lung cancer patients to show no symptoms, Mansky said. “Roughly one-fourth of all patients diagnosed with this form of cancer do not show symptoms. As in Darryl’s case, they’re usually caught when the patient gets an x-ray for something usually unrelated.”
Hearing his cancer diagnosis and his chances of survival was almost surreal, especially after having already faced and beaten neck cancer.
“It was difficult to hear the lung cancer diagnosis. They gave me a 20-30 percent chance of survival. Hearing that sort of forces you to redirect your thinking, but I’m the type of person that whatever is, just is. Maybe that’s my yoga training talking, but that mindset helped me stay really positive.”
Beers says he was told his best options in waging a battle against the cancer were radiation via Rapid Arc and chemotherapy.
“I had radiation five times a week,” he said. “I probably had about 30 radiation treatments and chemotherapy treatments on top of all that.”
The treatments helped, shrinking the tumor and making surgery an option. On April 28, Green Bay Cardiothoracic & Vascular surgeon Dr. Steven Gerndt removed the tumor in Beers’ right lung and one near his esophagus. He also removed nearby lymph nodes for biopsy. The cancer hadn’t spread.
Today, Beers is cancer free and credits the work of his doctors, their support staff and the technology at The Cancer Team as well as Green Bay Cardiothoracic & Vascular for his recovery. He especially credits the work of The Cancer Team’s cancer coaches.
“That was always a plus to me,” he said. “To have someone there to coordinate things for you – there’re so many things coming at you in addition to the healing. It’s a huge plus to have someone to take care of the other things you can’t really focus on, and my cancer coach, Robin Hemstreet, was outstandingly efficient at doing what she did for me.
“I’m just glad I’ve been fortunate enough to have such good care. It’s been quite an experience and yes, my bile duct is fine, too,” he said.
LORI & DAVE
KATHLEEN BLAKE: Breast Cancer Survivor
Kathleen Blake remembers feeling a lump in her breast in the fall of last year and casually dismissing the idea that anything was seriously amiss. By October when it was still there, she figured it was time for a routine mammogram.
“I put it off for a while because breast cancer just doesn’t run in my family,” she said.
The mammogram appointment was a fortuitous move. Something was indeed amiss.
“I had the mammogram and got the results the same day,” Blake said. “I was told there was definitely something suspicious showing up in the results, a growth. They sent me right over to the surgeon’s office – which was down the hall – to schedule a biopsy.”
Two days later (a Friday) she had the biopsy. By Monday, she was told she had cancer – more specifically, infiltrating ductal carcinoma breast cancer in her left breast.
“I couldn’t believe it. You’re just sitting there in shock,” Blake said. “You’re wondering, ‘how long do I have to live? What should I do?’ There is just so much emotion.”
An MRI was scheduled to offer a clearer understanding of the extent of the cancer. To Blake’s horror, the MRI showed four more tumors.
Her immediate treatment choices were: Have chemotherapy and then a series of lumpectomies or undergo a mastectomy.
A lumpectomy is surgery in which only the tumor and some surrounding tissue is removed. A mastectomy involves surgical removal of one or both breasts. It can be done partially or completely.
“We did not know if the other tumors were cancerous or not,” Blake said. “I opted for the mastectomy. I didn’t want to go through one of the other procedures only to have to have another surgery if they didn’t fully solve the problem. It was a tough decision, but I chose to have a mastectomy.”
The procedure was performed in December. It was successful, but Blake still faced challenges.
“During the surgery they found out that the cancer had spread,” Blake explained. “Four of seven nearby lymph nodes were positive for metastatic carcinoma. That’s when I was referred to Dr. Kelly Lynch at The Cancer Team at Bellin Health.”
Lynch discussed treatment options with Blake – first there would be chemotherapy followed by a period of radiation treatments. Lynch also explained to Blake that her breast cancer was a Stage 3A cancer.
“Kathleen’s determination to beat this disease made our role in her cancer fight that much easier,” Lynch said. “We have cutting-edge technology at our cancer facility and years of expertise among us, but sometimes it comes down to the intangibles, including a patient’s attitude. Kathleen’s attitude was definitely conducive to her experiencing a positive cancer treatment outcome.”
The Cancer Team offers cutting-edge tests that examine a cancer patient’s breast, lung and colon tumors at a molecular level and give information about the specific behavior of the patient’s tumor. Such genetic testing can aid an oncologist in determining which treatment plan will most effectively prevent the cancer from returning. It also can aid the oncologist in controlling the disease.
Even though she faced another round of challenges, Blake said she remained positive and upbeat about her chances of survival. “I had my down times, mind you, but overall I was pretty positive.”
It probably also helped that some of Blake’s concerns weren’t entirely centered on the side effects of treatments, or things of that nature. Rather, one of her main concerns focused on potential hair loss from three months of planned chemotherapy. The chemotherapy was to be administered in conjunction with Herceptin, a medicine used to hinder breast cancer and shrink the size of tumors.
“I did not want chemotherapy. I did not want to do it,” she laughed. “Call it kind of vain, but I just didn’t want to lose my hair.”
Staff members at The Cancer Team were exceptionally empathetic which helped ease her hair loss fears, Blake said. Eventually, she underwent successful chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She is now officially classified as a cancer survivor.
She says her experience at The Cancer Team directly influenced her outlook on her illness and enhanced her treatment during a trying period.
“Every one of those people – Dr. Lynch included – they make you feel normal,” Blake said. “They all crack jokes, they keep you upbeat. They even gave me a nickname, The Overachiever, because I would bring in my laptop and keep working away during chemotherapy sessions.
“You just want to do something in return for them, something to say, thank you,” Blake said. “They understand what you’re going through. They’re 100 percent supportive. You become friends. They made a long, horrible journey so much easier to endure.”