When Dennis Martin of Larned was told the next step in his cancer treatment would be radiation, a Heartland Cancer Center (HCC) radiation oncologist understood his hesitation. After all, Martin had already undergone surgery and chemotherapy.
"It was darn serious," said Martin. "It scared me a little bit."
Dr. Claudia Perez-Tamayo of HCC suggested he seek a second opinion. He gave it some thought and hit the road for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
After his medical tests at Mayo, Martin learned that Dr. Perez-Tamayo’s SmartBeam radiation treatment was the best route to recovery from his malignant thynoma.
The 63-year-old Martin has been cancer free for about a year and wanted to tell his story in observance of National Cancer Survivors Day, June 5.
"The Mayo doctor did the tests and said ‘Yes, you need radiation,’ " Martin said. "Dr. Claudia was right. He said, "I agree with her, and the Heartland Cancer Center can do this.’ I so appreciate Dr. Claudia being straightforward and honest with me, and for suggesting another opinion. This gave me peace of mind that I was making the right decision.
"The Mayo doctor also told me that I would save time, money and stress by getting treatment close to home," Martin added, noting he would have had to be in Minnesota for seven weeks. The HCC, which is owned and operated by St. Rose Ambulatory & Surgery Center, is located at 204 Cleveland, Great Bend.
Martin was able to make the quick trip for treatment to Great Bend from Larned, where he is back at work as the advertising manager and managing editor of The Larned Tiller & Toiler.
"I had had the surgery and 26 chemo sessions over 13 weeks," Martin commented. "But this cancer was like a bindweed, with its fingers weaving around. And it was not necessarily visible by a CAT or PET scan."
Martin had radiation at HCC five days a week for seven weeks. "Each time, the whole thing took 15 minutes — tops," he said.
Dr. Fadi Estephan of the HCC diagnosed the thynoma a little over two years ago.
"We have a thymus gland when we are born," Martin explained. "As we age it goes away — except in certain people. I am one of those people. It accounts for less than one percent of the cancers.
"It was on top of the lung, and was growing and encapsulating my esophagus and an artery that goes to the heart," he continued. "It also had a hold of the nerve that allows speech and it affected my diaphragm."
Martin’s journey began when he woke one night with "a terrible pain," in his neck and shoulder. He thought he was having a heart attack or something related to his diabetes.
The next day he had a chest X-ray and an EKG. "The EKG was fine but thank God for the angel who was reading the chest X-ray. She saw something."
On May 7, 2009, Dr. Estephan informed Martin of the cancer. The surgery was scheduled in Hutchinson and he was released May 15.
The chemotherapy began after he regained his strength, and Martin now sees Dr. Estephan on a regular basis for check-ups.
"Dr. Estephan has been good for me and I recommend him to anyone," Martin said, noting the medical oncologist is at HCC weekly. "I check in every six months instead of every three months."
While Martin and other cancer patients must concentrate on their treatment, they also have the added stress of the financial costs.
"Money was definitely a factor," Martin said. "I had picked up the high-risk insurance through the state of Kansas but it has a $10,000 deductible. And the second opinion cost $5,000."
Martin applied to the HCC Patient Care Fund and was eligible for help with some expenses. The fund was created and is maintained with proceeds from the annual St. Rose Golf Classic.
"I play in the golf tournament every year," Martin said. "This is what it is all about. Everyone at the cancer center does a great job. I appreciate them being here. They are amazing assets to our area."
Martin noted that he sought information from many sources, including a book by another HCC medical oncologist, Dr. Mark Fesen. The book is called "Surviving the Cancer System."
In addition, Doug Brown, a fellow HCC patient and cancer survivor, shared a token depicting a prayer to St. Peregrine, patron saint of cancer patients.
"Doug said it would help me remember that I am not alone," Martin said. "I carried it in my pocket then and still do today. When I got a little down, I took it out and looked at it. It was helpful."