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Cancer A Love Story
By Thomas Lucas Suzanne Gallen-Lucas
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2009 Thomas Lucas
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSue and Tom Are Happily Married
Sue and I were a typical middle-class couple. I had been working in the pharmaceutical industry for twenty-plus years. I was at the senior director level, and Sue was working for a small pharmaceutical company as the group manager. I say typical because we did everything other couples did-visited friends, went to the movies, went food shopping, cleaned house, took care of the bills, went to family parties, and took trips to Connecticut to see my mother. Sue's mom and dad passed away years ago. I was divorced from my first wife and then met Sue, the love of my life. We clicked immediately. She had three daughters and I had two sons, so at holidays our house was full. We had been married for nine years at this point in our relationship.
This period in time was when the pharmaceutical industry was losing money because of a lack of new drugs. There were new mergers going on every month, and people were losing their jobs so that the pharmaceutical industry could lower their head count and save money. Then came the acquisitions, and so I had to jump from one company to another, so we moved around from one county to another. However, because of my sons and Sue's daughter, who were allworking, we tried to stay near our family. My wife was a very smart women, and she read book after book. She even asked me to explain what I did for a living, and I had to teach her about physiology. It really was not that bad because when I came home from work she wanted to know how my day went and Sue would come up with suggestions if I had a problem at work.
Regardless of various problems couples have to face from time to time, Sue and I were a team and managed problems together. Sue was my best friend, my lifelong companion, and a wonderful wife; we helped each other when we were down. Sue had a great personality was liked by almost everybody who met her. She was a strong individual who managed to overcome her very screwed-up childhood. We were happy and doing fine until she scheduled her yearly gynecology exam.
Chapter TwoJust a Routine Gynecologic Exam
In March of 2005 my wife went to have a routine gynecologic exam and physical and of course a Pap smear. Instead of going to her old physician, whom she trusted and had been seeing most all her life, Sue decided to go to a lab that was close to our home. My comment was that a Pap smear was a Pap smear and you couldn't screw that up. Boy was I wrong. After two weeks we found out that the Pap smear was abnormal. I immediately called the lab and told them who I was. I told them I was Dr. Thomas Lucas and my wife was Suzanne Gallen-Lucas and asked them to give me the results of the Pap smear. The lab tech told me that some of the cells on the smear were distorted and did not look typical.
I said, "How often do you find this kind of result, and what does it mean?" The tech's comment was "Not often," and the tech did not have experience with that type of cell before.
I said to Sue, "You should have gone to your old doctor."
The lab said they would repeat the study and get back to me in about two weeks. I was not happy about their time frame. When cancer is diagnosed, it is critical to move as fast as possible to get all the medical data and start chemo if it is appropriate. Some forms of cancer can spread very quickly depending on the type of cancer it is. Sue managed the possibilities in her head while I was anxious and could not think about anything but the thought that it could be cancer; I always think of the worst scenario first. That is just me. I called the lab back and asked them why it would take two more weeks to get the results, and the lab said it would take two more weeks to get the pathology report because the cells were atypical for cancer and they had not seen this abnormal type of cell before and needed to get a second opinion.
Those two weeks were agony for me, and I tried to hide my fear from Sue, but Sue knew me too well and knew I was dying inside waiting for the results. I would call the pathology lab three times a week and say, "This is Dr. Tom Lucas. Do you have the final report on my wife, Suzanne Gallen-Lucas?"
The answer was, "We cannot determine what kind of cells we are looking at, and we sent a sample to the University of Penn Medical College."
I was a little angry with their results and said, "It took you a month to decide you did not know what you were looking at and had to send it off to another Path lab? Remind me to forget to pay your bill until a month after I get it," and I hung up the phone.
I immediately called an associate of mine at Penn and asked him when we would get the results. He said, "Tom, I should have the info for you in about a week."
That was the longest week of my life while my wife just stayed cool, calm, and collected. She did not have my medical background, and I have to admit when something may medically be wrong with my wife I want the answer ASAP. When it comes to the possibility of finding cancer in a loved one, time is of the essence. The sooner it is treated, the greater the chance you could have to go into remission. I hope whoever is reading this book realizes that there are very few types of cancer that can be cured even in this day and age. As an aside, based on my medical background, never get a gynecologic exam any place other than a university hospital, such as the University of Penn or Thomas Jefferson Medical center, to name a few. This is just my opinion.
This was just the beginning of three years of hell on earth, and here I was falling apart at the thought of losing the love of my life, my soul mate, to cancer. I had a feeling our life was going to change forever, but I kept those feelings to myself. I had to be strong for her and forced myself to be as positive as possible.
I said to Sue one day that if it was cancer, we would beat it. I told her I would get in touch with the most renowned oncologist in the United States and we would get a second opinion. Then I said, "I can take you to the top cancer centers in the United States. Do not worry, you will have the best oncologists, the latest treatments, and we will beat this ravaging disease."
I called the Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson, and Mass General. I knew some key opinion leaders in the field of cancer at these hospitals, and every one of them said, "Tom, I would be glad to have my team review your wife's chart."
This may sound arrogant on my part calling all of these experts I worked with in the past. I know, but this was my wife we were talking about, and I was a senior director with a pharmaceutical company with thirty years of clinical drug development experience under my belt. I had a master's degree in pharmacology and a PhD in medical physiology. Although I was not an MD, I spent thirty years studying medicine and had taken a sixty-hour course in cancer at Harvard University in 1989.
I realized that I was a little behind the times, but you can bet that almost once a week I spent hours reading and analyzing the latest information , research studies, and drugs for the treatment of ovarian cancer, which I thought it was. I started to make Suzie crazy. I asked her if she wanted to go to Texas to the MD Anderson Cancer center or the Dana Farber Institute in Massachusetts or Fox Chase or Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
I was losing it. I forced myself to calm down, and while we were waiting for the second pathology report I came up with a plan.
As an aside to couples having to deal with a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer, my advice would be to take it one step at a time. Do not fear what is still unknown, and for God's sake, do not make it worse on your spouse like I did without having the results. Schedule a consult with your gynecologist before you decide what to do next. Well, finally I received a call from the University of Penn.
"Dr. Lucas, Tom, we saw something on the Pap test, and we are sure it is a rare form of cancer called primary peritoneal cancer, a form of ovarian cancer."
I was devastated when I heard the news. I had one of the hardest tasks of my life. I had to tell my wife that she had cancer. Sue came home from work that day, and she could see the tears in my eyes and said to me, "You got the results."
I said, "Yes, my love, I have."
I sat her down on the couch hugged her and cried. I must have kissed her at least ten times, and Sue, being as strong of a person as she was, said, "Tommy." She called me Tommy from time to time. Until I met her only my mother called me Tommy. "Try and calm down and tell me what the results were from the Pap smear," she said.
I said, "Sue, you have ovarian cancer."
She was silent. She looked at me and said, "Now what?" That just goes to show you how strong of a women Sue was.
I said, "We need to decide on a cancer center and send them the Pap smear data and make an appointment to speak with their best cancer oncologist."
Sue said to me, "Well, I trust you, and wherever you want to take me is fine with me." Sue then said, "Now calm down. Remember what you said to me before. We will beat this."
I said, "Sue, I am sorry I am acting like a scared rabbit, but you know how much I love you, and I cannot accept the possibility that you could die."
Sue just looked at me and said, "Remember what we said. We can beat this." Sue repeated the phrase, and her strength made me feel a little better.
I said, "You're right, we can beat this."
Two days later I told Sue I wanted her to see a doctor at a cancer center that has a good reputation and was outside of Philadelphia. I told her that I made some phone calls to past associates and they said that this cancer center had a doctor who was very good and that he was a surgical oncology gynecologist.
Sue said, "Tommy, what is his name?"
I said, "His name is Dr. Larry Harper. I checked his credentials, and he is an MD and is board certified in oncology and gynecology as well as being a board-certified surgeon." For those who might be reading this story, the above is not the doctor's real name, for obvious reasons.
A week later we went to see Dr. Harper. Now, mind you, it had been over a month since we found out that Sue had ovarian cancer, and I was thinking this was not good. When one has cancer one must move as quickly as possible to start treatment to have a better chance at beating the disease and hopefully finding oneself in remission. Nevertheless, the health care system is what it is-overworked to a degree-and the only way you will get immediate treatment is if you have a heart attack and are brought to the hospital in an ambulance. Well, we met Dr. Harper; he seemed like a very nice gentleman, and by my standards he was very honest and well-educated in his field.
Chapter ThreeMore Tests and the Fear Begins
Sue and I both believed that Dr. Harper would have read the Pap smear results and would elaborate on the type of cancer Sue had and would tell us what type of
chemotherapy Sue would receive, for how long, and what her chances were; no such luck. Dr. Harper said, "Since I am Sue's physician now and have the responsibility to treat her, we need to do another Pap smear, a vaginal exam, several blood tests, a CT scan, and a biopsy."
After hearing his list of tests and procedures I said to him, thinking, well, let's get them done today, "I am not trying to be rude or suggest that you do not know what you are doing, but should we not move as fast as possible to begin treatment?"
Dr. Harper said, "It makes sense to repeat the tests to make sure that the data is correct and we can plan a better plan of action."
Dr. Harper took my rather snotty comments in stride. "Tom," he said, "we need to determine what type of ovarian cancer Sue has. We also need to determine how far along the cancer has progressed, and based on the physical exam, it is possible that the cancer has already progressed into the abdominal cavity."
Sue and I were dumbfounded. I said, "But Dr. Harper, it has only been a little more than a month since we found the cancer."
He replied, "That is correct, but the original physician was a gynecologist, not a cancer expert. I know that you are both very concerned, as I am, but to make sure that we provide Sue with the best chance of remission, we need to perform all of the tests I talked about. The best I can do is push the staff to set up Sue's appointments as soon as possible."
I said, "Dr. Harper, I am glad that I picked an expert for my wife, and I understand where you are coming from. It appears that we have only one chance to save my wife."
His comment was, "That may be right, but let's wait and see."
After our conversation I was livid. This was the love of my life, and I would be dammed if I was going to let her die. Sue was quiet as we went to Dr. Harper's administrator and set up the appointments. We would have to wait another month before Sue could be treated. Sue and I walked out of the hospital hand in hand and went home. Sue went to bed early that night. I asked her if she was all right, and she said, "We can beat this," and started crying. I hugged her until she went to sleep.
I called her friend at work and told her what was going on with Sue and that she would need to take off several days in the next month. Sue's friends wished Sue well and said they would pray for Sue. The next morning was a Saturday, and I spent the entire day researching ovarian cancer as well as the different types of treatment, how it is staged, the potential for surgery, side effects of the treatment, the number of women who go into remission, the number of patients who do not respond to chemo, what the alternatives are, and the number of women who die within six months, a year, or live for three years or more, which is rare. I have to admit the research was agonizing for me.
It was a very busy day for me, but I had spent most of my life in medical research, and I was determined to learn as much about ovarian cancer as Dr. Harper.
After learning all of this information, I was devastated. This was a nasty form of cancer my wife had. Ovarian cancer is given a number based on all of the medical results from the tests that were taken. Sue was at the stage-four level, meaning that the cancer was very active and beginning to metastasize, which means it was spreading. It was the worst case in general.
In addition, we were also talking about possible progression to other organs of the body, and even with chemo, 60 percent of the women with this form of cancer will not reach remission and have the potential of dying from this type of cancer. Typically 60 percent of most of the patients will die in a year. To give people reading this book some hope, please remember that the data I am talking about was from three years ago and today the statistics maybe different.
Chapter FourThe Medical Results and What Is Next
Sue and I sat in Dr. Harper's office side by side holding hands, waiting for the results of all of the tests and where we would go from there. Dr. Harper walked into the office and sat down and started to tell us about the information he had received from all the tests and what his plan was going to be.
Our first shock was that Sue did have a rare form of ovarian cancer called primary peritoneal cancer, a form of ovarian cancer that there is no cure for. Sue and I just stared at him, and I did not know what to say and just listened to my wife's death knell. Dr. Harper said that Sue needed surgery because the cancer had already spread from the endometrium to the abdomen. Dr. Harper said that the CT scan indicated that the amount of cancer in the abdominal cavity was significant, and the only chance of helping Sue to be able to receive chemo was a de-bulking procedure. I asked Dr. Harper to explain what a de-bulking procedure was because I knew Sue did not know what type of surgery that was.
Excerpted from Cancer A Love Story by Thomas Lucas Suzanne Gallen-Lucas Copyright © 2009 by Thomas Lucas. Excerpted by permission.
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