Bill Mead of Great Bend has been through it all – five surgeries, three complete radiation treatments and skin grafts. He is currently undergoing more chemotherapy.
He hasn’t had food for two years and is nourished through a feeding tube. His prognosis is not the best.
Nevertheless, Mead believes he has been blessed with more years to spend with family and friends, in part, because of Heartland Cancer Center’s (HCC) relationship with the Midwest Cancer Alliance (MCA), the outreach arm of The University of Kansas Cancer Center.
St. Rose Ambulatory & Surgery Center owns HCC and is a member of MCA, which links members to research and clinical trials available at The University of Kansas Cancer Center. One result is access to Tumor Boards, or Tumor Conferences, which Mead said has benefited him.
Mead, 70, was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2008; it started in his lower jawbone. Following surgery, he was cancer free for a few months but it returned.
“I suspected something was wrong,” Mead recalled. “It felt like it did the first go-round. It felt like a hard pebble and there was slight pain. The pebble grows and then it turns into these holes.”
Dr. Mark Fesen, Mead’s HCC oncologist, “has worked with KU Medical Center and is instrumental at this stage,” Mead said. “He is working on my behalf.”
Mead was informed several weeks ago that he has six to 12 months to live. But he pursued the issue and has scheduled another visit at KU Medical Center.
“Had we not gotten involved with KU Medical Center and the Tumor Board, I don’t know where we would have been,” Mead said. “Dr. Fesen stands ready to do what he needs to do. It is great we have this alliance in Great Bend since it is on the cutting edge of technology. It takes more than one person to figure this out.”
Mead and his wife, Evelyn, who were classmates at Pawnee Rock High School, were married in 1961. They call Great Bend home but have lived in various places in the country. Bill was in management at Mobil Oil; he also owned his own businesses, was involved in construction and high-tech enterprises, and built airplanes.
Evelyn noted that this journey has been “complicated and horrible but there have been many blessings along the way. We have re-connected with old friends and made several new friends. We have seen the great side of many people.
“The nurses and other employees at Heartland are so kind and caring,” Evelyn added. “They are great people. We are fortunate to have the cancer center right here.”
Dr. Fesen said a Tumor Board is especially helpful in complicated cases such as Mead’s. He noted that a main Tumor Board convenes twice a month; there are other boards that deal with specific cancers such as head and neck, and hematology.
“We can discuss our patients with KU professors and others,” Dr. Fesen explained. “It is great to have their cooperation and enthusiasm. It is our chance to bring other experts here and get second and third opinions.
“They bring a superior level of academics and science,” Dr. Fesen added. “It is reassuring in complicated cases.”
Oftentimes, these consultations are conducted locally through ITV at HCC.
Dr. Fesen noted this relationship also helps KU educate future doctors. “It is educational for them too,” he said. “We have follow-ups about how patients are doing; it is a great collaboration.”
Dr. Gary Doolittle, MCA medical director, echoed Dr. Fesen’s comments about this two-way street.
“It is beneficial for our trainees, including residents and fellows to hear about challenging cases from around the state,” Dr. Doolittle said. “Further, it gives our students a glimpse of what it is like to practice oncology.
“Heartland Cancer Center’s participation enables a team of physicians to review cases via ITV without the need to travel,” he added. “This is so important for patients and their families.”