It can take a village to raise a child, and it can take a village to care for a patient. But for one lady diagnosed with colorectal cancer twice in five years, it took the entire scope of the Baylor Scott & White Health community.
Linda was in her early 60s when her primary care doctor suggested she get a routine colonoscopy. David Havemann, MD, an internist on the medical staff at Scott & White Medical Center – Temple has been Linda’s primary care physician for several years and knew that colon cancer ran in her family.
Andrejs Avots-Avotins, MD, PhD, a gastroenterologist on the medical staff at Scott & White Medical Center – Temple and longtime family friend, performed the routine colonoscopy and found a lesion on the left side.
“He came in and looked like he had swallowed a snake,” Linda said. “He was really agonizing over it.”
Linda saw J. Scott Thomas, MD, FACS, a colorectal surgeon on the medical staff at Scott & White Medical Center – Temple and the surgery was scheduled for the removal of the Stage I colorectal cancer, following the pathology report.
The outlook was positive, as Linda was sent to recover in the hospital. However, Linda’s body did not respond well, and she ended up with a wound infection that was the beginning of a long road.
Battling beside family —“If you mention my name, they all know me!”
Linda battled the infectious process of the wound for over a year. She would come to the hospital about three times every week. She grew close to her caretakers who helped change out her dressings.
“Each one of them became my personal friend,” Linda said. “All of them were caring and supportive.”
Linda saw the nurses on a regular basis, and truly connected with them on a special level.
“Oh my goodness, the nurses were remarkable!” Linda said. “I just can’t praise them enough. I got to know them, and they got to know me. I felt like they were really part of my family.”
Thankfully, Linda’s husband, Bill, was able to relieve the stress of everyday hospital visits. Bill is a retired oral-maxillofacial surgeon and with his medical experience, he was able to change his wife’s dressings twice a day.
“Without his support, I don’t know what I would have done,” Linda said. “I gave him a plaque that says ‘My Hero‘ because that’s what he really is. My husband was the cheerleader all along the way.”
Smiling despite setbacks
After a year of treating the infection, Linda then had to fight another series of battles. The doctors found a hernia, which was surgically repaired and treated by Randall W. Smith, MD FACS, a surgeon on the medical staff at Scott & White Medical Center – Temple. He worked closely with Linda on follow-up visits to make sure it healed properly.
“At that point, I was so relieved it was finally coming to an end,” Linda said.
Little did she know that despite two consecutive years of clean colonoscopy reports, another much larger cancer lesion would appear on the opposite side.
“I’m kind of a Pollyanna positive thinker,” Linda said. “I generally look on the positive side of things. I didn’t let it get the best of me.”
This time with a Stage III diagnosis, Linda worked with Lucas Wong, MD, an oncologist on the medical staff at Scott & White Medical Center – Temple for careful chemotherapy treatment after Dr. Smith and Dr. Thomas performed her cancer surgery.
Dr. Wong said that Linda was a unique case because of her open wound drainage. They worked attentively to manage her care in the pivotal timeframe vital to fighting cancer.
“She is a wonderful person and was an honor to take care of,” Dr. Wong said. “She is very intelligent and had done her homework. We tell our patients the better you understand your disease, the easier it is to feel like you’re in control.”
However, there was still more bad news ahead. Following the surgery, an infectious process developed in the mesh that was used in the hernia repair.
Even more, they found a blood clot in her lung from her post-chemo CAT scan, which could have been attributed to the chemotherapy or the port. Kathleen G. Halka, MD, an oncologist on the medical staff at Scott & White Medial Center – Temple oversaw Linda’s progress and her loving husband helped administer shots to help with the blood clotting. Shots were administered sometimes twice daily for five months before the clot finally cleared up.
“I respect the team because I knew that they wanted me to get well,” Linda said. “They all communicated with each other and it was fantastic. I’ve had this relationship with them for over five years and they’ve been remarkable.”
Dr. Wong pointed out that seeing multiple specialists in one location is something people don’t seem to appreciate. If Linda had received care in a larger city, she would have had to spend all day driving in between specialists, rather than visiting with all her doctors in one location for an hour or two.
Jumping over the final hurdle was helping Linda beat the infection once and for all. The mesh that was used in Linda’s previous treatment continued to drain and she needed to have another surgery to replace the old mesh with the new in her abdomen.
She praises Dr. Smith and Dr. Thomas, especially for putting up with her sense of humor over the years. She would play funny tricks on them before surgery.
“There were several times where I thought our house of cards would collapse…It was a real testament to the strength of the human spirit.” —Dr. Smith
The last time Linda saw Dr. Smith she remembers saying, “You said it would all stop and it DID!” Relieved and moving forward, Bill and Linda are back doing what they love.
They’re playing golf and skiing, serving in their church and community, and traveling. To celebrate the end of constant checkups and hospital visits, they went overseas and enjoyed a renewed sense of freedom.
Now liberated from bandages and doctor visits, Linda said she’s taking it a day at a time.