At first glance, it's just lunch between two friends, but listen, and you know it's therapeutic. "We give thanks for great medical treatment and for great prognosis," says Ken Porter as he prays.
Ken Porter was in the band. Betsy Goebel was in drama. They were both in the Monterey High School class of '73. Now, 30 years later, they faced a similar diagnosis three months apart.
Today, Betsy Goebel Jones is a Ph.D. in the Department of Family Medicine at Texas Tech. She was diagnosed first with stage three colon cancer, meaning it had already spread from the colon to one lymph node. "Colon cancer is not something I would have ever guessed. I don't have any family history of that," says Betsy.
When it comes to that list of colon cancer clues, she did have some rectal bleeding. Thinking it was just hemorrhoids, she mentioned it to her doctor during an annual check-up. "We went ahead and scheduled colonoscopy in three or four weeks and I didn't think much about it. Surprise. Surprise. Came back and said there's a growth there and it needs to come out," says Betsy.
Betsy's cancer was the motivation Ken needed to slip away from his photography business and get himself checked. "We get to the very end of the test and then he goes..."hmm". Wasn't expecting to see that. Yeah. That's a bit of a shock," says Ken.
It's not uncommon for tiny growths, or polyps, to grow inside the colon. Usually, they're benign, but they can grow bigger and eventually become cancerous. "I finally looked at it and said are we using the "m" word to describe this tumor. And he said yes we are. M as in malignant? As in malignant," says Ken.
The American Cancer Society suggests that unless you have a family history of colon cancer, screening should begin at age 50. Ken is 49. Betsy is another exception. She is only 48.
Both Ken and Betsy needed surgery to remove the cancer followed by chemotherapy. At least the type of chemo used to fight colon cancer is not the kind that makes your hair fall out. "That was my first question - Do I get to keep my hair?" says Betsy.
While Ken carries a portable chemo pump one week out of every month, Betsy's treatment plan brings her to Southwest Cancer Center where she is tied to a life-line of powerful drugs for four hours every week. Time enough to think about what might have been prevented. "What I had started as something very manageable, if it had been detected early. So early detection is clearly the take home message," says Betsy.
And Ken says he is finally learning that even the most embarrassing symptoms should not be ignored. "I finally said, 'Well, we're kind of having little problems with diarrhea. Well, why didn't you tell us, you know, hello. Hello,'" says Ken.
That brings into focus the ever important doctor/patient relationship. Which in this case takes us back to that high school annual at Monterey in 1973. You see, Andy Shaver was another senior in that class. Dr. Shaver today is the friend and physician who found Ken's cancer. He, too, had a close call with colon cancer eight years ago.
"My polyp was at 41. So I would be in the same place as Ken or Betsy at this age, if not already dead from it," says Dr. Shaver.
NewsChannel 11 will explain that in our final segment of "Colon Cancer Clues" Thursday night.