At University Hospital Feb. 2011

At University Hospital Feb. 2011
February 11, 2011 at University of Utah Hospital

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's!

One year ago today, my sweetheart and I sat in the foyer of the University of Utah Med Center waiting for Phil's colonoscopy. That wasn't the beginning, but that was the definitive moment in a long series of doctor's visits and diagnostic tests. That was the pivotal event that changed our lives forever.

Two weeks later, we sat in the office of Dr. John Weis at the Huntsman Cancer Center waiting for news that we already anticipated would not be good. Phil had endured a CT scan, PET scan, liver ultrasound with biopsies, multiple blood tests, and the colonoscopy—and now we waited for results.

Phil liked Dr. Weis the moment he walked in the office. Dr. Weis was extremely friendly and upbeat, despite his pronouncement: “You have Stage IV Colon Cancer." His candor and confidence gave us a sense of optimism and hope.

"What does that mean?" Phil asked.

"What do you know about Stage IV Colon Cancer?" Dr. Weis countered. It was no mystery to us that the doctors suspected colon cancer. I had researched colorectal cancer extensively and I knew exactly what that meant.

"Stage IV means Phil has a primary tumor in his colon and the cancer has metastasized to one or more organs outside the colon,” I said, mechanically.

"Yes," replied Dr. Weis, turning to Phil. "You have a tumor blocking two-thirds of your colon at the hepatic flexure, and several tumors in your liver."

"What does that mean?" Phil asked.

"What do you know?" Dr. Weis responded.

Again, I replied, "It means the cancer cannot be cured."

"That's right," said Dr. Weis. This was a novel way of delivering bad news, I thought, asking us what we knew. Lucky for him, I was well informed. I suspected Dr. Weis was relieved that he didn't have to say the words that Phil and I had hoped we would never have to hear.

"What can we expect? How much time?" I asked, perfunctorily, as if the question was coming from somewhere or someone else. No matter how well prepared you feel you are, news like this leaves one feeling shocked, disoriented, and strangely detached, like stepping out of time, losing touch with reality and all sense of reason.

Again, Dr. Weis addressed his response to Phil. "You have six to 12 months, if we do nothing. If you have chemo, I think I can keep you alive for two to three years."

Phil's response was spontaneous. "I'M GOING TO BEAT THIS! I am a planner and a dreamer and I have a lot to accomplish. I'm not giving in. I want you to know that when I decide to do something, I GET IT DONE!"

Dr. Weis' response was immediate and forceful. "Good, we'll start chemo right away. I have at least three regimens we can use, and when one stops working, we'll try another."

Phil was referred to Dr. Skaif, a petite and demure surgeon with a very direct bedside manner which we very much appreciated. She described Phil's tumor as infiltrating outside the colon, therefore, inoperable. She also defined eight tumors, about the size of walnuts, in Phil's liver and she suggested the possibility of surgery. However, a subsequent PET scan determined that Phil had a congenital defect--the left lobe of his liver never developed--so surgery was not an option. There wasn't enough liver to regenerate. In an outpatient surgery, Dr. Skaif implanted a port under Phil's skin on his shoulder which provided direct access to a major vein entering his heart. Chemo would be delivered by accessing the port, saving his veins from collapse.

On March 14 Phil started chemo treatments every other week—Modified Folfox 6 with Avastin (plus six rounds of Oxaliplatin). Dr. Weis described Phil's cancer as a "chronic condition" that would require treatment for the rest of his life. And we are thankful that the chemo has been successful in shrinking the primary tumor and arresting any growth or spread over the past year.

Today Phil had his 24th round of chemo. And in today's news was a report of fake Avastin being distributed in the US; I only hope no bad drugs came to Utah. Avastin is one of the drugs listed in short supply so we feel blessed every time Phil is able to get Avastin. It has been instrumental in extending his life and we are grateful.

Anyway . . . as I reflect on this Valentine's Day . . . I realize that over the course of Phil's cancer, we have been strangely comforted. Maybe not so "strangely," when you consider that we believe in God and in his son Jesus Christ and we place our faith in them. We believe that prayers are answered, and when we don't get the answers we want, we trust that the Lord knows what's best for us and we accept His will.

For now . . . we're very thankful that we've had one more Valentine's Day filled with infinite love for one another. "Infinite" . . . what a comforting word. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Phil and I know that because we are sealed to one another in the Lord's holy temple, if we keep the Lord's commandments and strive with all our hearts to do what's right, we will be together with our loved ones for eternity. And in the end—whenever that may be—that's all that really matters. Besides, it’s not really the end . . .

Happy Valentine's Day everyone!


  1. Ah, love it, my friends!

    SO glad you've had another brief year. Keep on keeping on with the 'plan.' Very glad for your supportive med community re. 'alternatives.'
    Rare, in some respects, to see such.

    Every additional breath and heartbeat is a gift, I feel, and thank my Big Brother/Creator/Savior 'n His Awesome Dad --THE Almighty One, every day for such a gift.

    God continue to bless and keep your life on this earth. Can't wait for the time of 'Liftoff' at the Second Coming! --Reunion time with our ladies.... Laura Beth 'n Bonnie Beth!

  2. What a year it has been for you guys! Sounds like you have great doctors and Phil has such a great attitude about it all! Love ya!

  3. Amen to this post. He does answer prayers, he knows each of us, this earthly life is but a moment...a test and then graduation.