What does it take to survive cancer, to overcome it?
Ask Gerald Tichenor, known to his friends as Gabby. In the spring of 2019, he was diagnosed with non-small cell stage III A carcinoma in one of his lungs. As soon as he received that diagnosis, a whirlwind of care began around him.
His battle for survival began in the Emergency Department at Decatur County Memorial Hospital (DCMH). His wife, Brenda, says that Gerald had been short of breath for a long time, so long that it just seemed normal for him to breathe that way, and they both contributed it to getting older. It was not until he noticed blood dripping from his nose and his mouth that they sought emergency care.
A follow-up visit to Dr. Mungcal at Tree City Medical Partners led to further testing. A short twenty minutes after Gerald completed the tests, Dr. Mungcal called him to discuss the results. Dr. Mungcal sent Gerald directly to Dr. Ferry, a pulmonologist in the DCMH Multi-Specialty Clinic.
Within a week of that first visit to DCMH, Gerald was in the operating room at Franciscan Health, preparing to have a tumor removed from his left lung. The tumor was eight pounds and situated next to the sac surrounding his heart. Three-fourths of his lung was removed with the tumor. Thankfully, the tumor was encapsulated, but because it was so large, so advanced, and sitting against his heart, he had to undergo chemotherapy treatments as well.
He and his wife met with Dr. Ferry again, and he gave Gerald a very good prognosis with the chemotherapy treatments. But because of the trip to Greenwood for the surgery, Brenda was filled with anxiety just thinking about multiple trips for treatments. They both wanted another option. For them, that option was Decatur County Memorial Hospital Cancer Care and Infusion Services. They met Dr. Slaughter, a board-certified medical oncologist, Nurse Navigator Gena Luhn, and the rest of the staff.
Gerald decided to have the chemotherapy drugs administered locally. Brenda talked about how everyone at DCMH was “absolutely phenomenal.” She said that until she found herself in such a dire situation, she did not know of the available service and care and the fantastic work that employees at this hospital perform every day. She described how everyone was kind and good to them, from the doctors to the staff, to the billing cashier. Everyone had a job to do, knew what they were doing, cheerfully did it, and seemed genuinely glad to help.
Gerald survived the side effects of each chemotherapy treatment with little difficulty. He had the best of care. Gerald added that Kristol Hadler, a nurse in the Cancer Care Unit, “was outstanding.” Gerald talked about the caring and professionalism of the entire staff on his chemotherapy visits. The staff emphasized that they were the ones who were blessed to meet and care for Gerald. They enjoyed the time that Brenda and Gerald spent in the department. “They made it very easy for us to welcome them into our family,” said Nikki Reed, MSN, RN, OCN and Manager of Cancer Care and Infusion Services.
Although chemotherapy went well, Gerald’s struggles were not over. On August 20, after the final chemotherapy treatment, he began having difficulty breathing. When the ambulance arrived at their house, his O2 saturation level was 40%. He had contracted pneumonia.
Brenda recalled that, for her, Gerald’s hospital stay for the pneumonia was one of the scariest times during his entire ordeal. He had come so far and she did not want to lose him at this point. She leaned on the employees at DCMH who were just as competent and just as friendly and helpful as those in the cancer unit. Gerald fought hard, but his lungs were weak. Eventually, he improved and was released to go home.
The pneumonia was gone. His chemotherapy was completed. He explained that each stage in his battle generated special meaning. DCMH Cancer Care and Infusion Services recognize their patients’ accomplishments by giving them a uniquely created stained glass item. The recognition program is funded with a grant from the DCMH Hospital Foundation. Gerald chose a design with hummingbirds flying. He felt a sense of pride because he made it through to the finish line.
Gerald continued to improve and feel better. Next came an entire set of new tests, and then an appointment with Dr. Ferry. He and his wife sat in the examining room in silence, waiting for Dr. Ferry to deliver the news. Was his cancer gone? Did he beat the enemy?
Dr. Ferry and his entire staff walked into the room looking very serious, but Brenda thought she saw that Dr. Ferry started to smile. Gerald saw a huge smile as Dr. Ferry delivered the news that there was no more cancer. Everyone laughed. Everyone cried.
Later at a primary care appointment, Dr. Mungcal read the entire final report to him. “There is no cancer.”
Gerald’s current but still difficult phase of recovery, rehabilitation, is now in full swing. He wants to improve the strength in his arms and legs. To reach that goal, he walks on a treadmill and also uses an elliptical machine in Pulmonary Rehab at DCMH. He met Audrey Fuller, BSN, RN, Cardiac and Pulmonary Rehab Supervisor. She will not let him slide on his road to recovery.
He is still attached to an oxygen tank. He has approximately one year to reach his goal of being free of the tank. He says it will be the last reminder of his fight, and leaving that behind will mean that he has completely beaten the cancer.But, he adds, if he always has to use the oxygen tank, “it’s okay.” He feels that every day he is alive is an achievement, and he has the entire staff at DCMH to thank for helping him in his fight to beat cancer. Brenda echoed his thoughts about DCMH when she added, “We weren’t just cared for, we were loved.”