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Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Patient Stories, Colon Cancer Patient Stories, Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumor (GIST) Patient Stories
In the summer of 1974, at the young age of 19, Ray Beckler developed severe hemorrhoids. His family doctor took one look and sent him to a surgeon. For years post surgery Ray's symptoms remained.
"The bleeding never stopped. I'd have fecal occult tests, but the blood was always attributed to an internal hemorrhoid based on a sigmoidoscopy," Ray explained. To improve his digestive health, Ray limited meat and potatoes and introduced more fish, fresh vegetables, whole grains, low fat and fresh fruit into his diet . . . (and a little ice cream!).
By the time Ray was 44 his symptoms worsened. "My doctor ordered a sigmoidoscopy which again found nothing but a bleeding hemorrhoid" said Ray. He recalls the GI doctor telling him, "You're too young for it to be cancer." Ray continued, "Of course, that's what I wanted to hear and didn't pursue a second opinion."
"At age 47, I was finally diagnosed with colon cancer."
"Three years later at age 47, on a diving trip with my oldest son in the Florida Keys, I developed a perirectal abscess. By the time I got home, the abscess required prompt surgery," explained Ray. The abscess returned shortly and a CT scan revealed a large mass in his sigmoid colon. A colonoscopy confirmed the diagnosis of colon cancer.
"I thought I was too young for this."
Ray had the same thoughts as most people after learning they have cancer. "Why me?" "I'm too young for this." "It can't be happening." "I don't want to die." "I'm eating a healthy diet." "Why me? Why not that person choking down Big Macs and double fries?"
Married for 24 years with two young sons, Ray wasn't ready to go. So he took control of his situation. He investigated three NCI (National Cancer Institute) centers within driving distance and selected Fox Chase for a second opinion.
"My pre-admission scans at Fox Chase Cancer Center showed several enlarged lymph nodes and a spot on my liver. Stage IV was a very real possibility," said Ray.
"The nursing staff was tremendous!"
Dr. John Hoffman performed the surgery to remove the sigmoid colon with the tumor surrounding tissue and lymph nodes and preserved Ray's normal bowel functions. An inspection of Ray's liver revealed only a benign cyst. Two days later, Fox Chase pathologists found no cancer in the lymph nodes giving Ray a favorable Stage II diagnosis. "The nursing staff was tremendous! I couldn't have asked for more skilled and compassionate care," explained Ray.
Ray recovered quickly. "Within three weeks of surgery, I was walking three miles and by four weeks was almost back to normal."
"I could join the 'cancer of the month' club."
Ray's medical oncologist, Dr. Neal Meropol, offered adjuvant chemotherapy which was optional for patients with stage II disease. "My doctors were fantastic," recalled Ray. His oldest son made the decision: "Dad, if you don't do it and it comes back you'll never forgive yourself and we'll all be second-guessing. So, just do it."
During his fourth month of chemotherapy, a dermatology exam revealed a suspicious mole on Ray's back. A very early stage melanoma, a simple excision of the mole and surrounding skin was sufficient. "I took it in stride and we joked about me joining the cancer of the month club," said Ray.
Life began to return to a new normal for Ray. He got in shape, helped other newly diagnosed people, and calls himself a "colonoscopy evangelist," convincing others to have the procedure.
Continued surveillance has proved beneficial for Ray. Eighteen months after surgery, a colonoscopy found a "severely irregular" polyp that most likely would have turned into another tumor.
"I'm a truly blessed four-time winner thanks to the talented staff at Fox Chase."
"A year after chemotherapy a basal cell cancer was discovered on my left ear during a routine screening with Dr. Lessin. It required the reconstructive surgical talents of Dr. Topham to remove the cancer and leave me with a normal looking ear," explained Ray. (An earlier basal cell cancer was removed from Ray's face at age 36.)
"I've had four cancers and now have no evidence of disease. That's four cancers I was supposedly too young to have. I'm a truly blessed four-time winner, thanks to the talented staff at Fox Chase, including my nurse practitioner, Margot Sweed, whose calming manners got me through some difficult times. My sons are now 18 and 20 and my wife, Cindy, and I are looking forward to another 29 years," Ray concluded.