Pete Krier really knows how to throw a party. The Claflin, Kansas native just turned 65 and beat what’s considered Stage III colon cancer. So Pete hosted an “I beat cancer” party, and roughly 500 friends, neighbors, family and community members gathered to celebrate Pete’s victory, his birthday, but also were educated on the importance of getting screened for colon cancer.
It was September of 2018 when Pete found himself at Clara Barton Hospital in Hoisington. He had been fighting an infection in his legs and was anemic. Dr. P.J. Stiles ordered a colonoscopy. That’s where five to six tumors were found inside his colon. Pete then went on to have surgery in October to remove a big section of his colon, where Pete proudly says, “I got a picture of it if you want to see it.”
But the good-natured owner of Pistol Pete’s Nuts and Bolts in Great Bend wasn’t done yet. Due to cancer found in his lymph nodes as well, Pete was referred to see Dr. Mark Fesen, Medical Oncologist at Central Care Cancer Center. In January of 2019, Pete began chemotherapy treatments that occurred every other weekend for six months.
As far as side effects go, Pete says, “You wouldn't believe it but I got hyper when I was on chemo. I couldn't sit down. It was crazy. I couldn't sit still, couldn't shut up, nothing. I got a lot done, really.” Except housework, Pete’s wife Lois adds jokingly.
Pete’s journey in beating colon cancer also came with its share of complications. There was a catheter issue, being unable to urinate properly and wearing a colostomy bag for just over a year. But through it all, Pete says “you can’t just give up”.
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer cells sometimes make substances called tumor markers that can be found in the blood. The most common tumor marker for colorectal cancer are carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA). Blood tests for these tumor markers can sometimes suggest someone might have colorectal cancer, but they can’t be used alone to screen for or diagnose cancer. This is because tumor marker levels can sometimes be normal in someone who has cancer and can be abnormal for reasons other than cancer. Tumor markers are used most often along with other tests to monitor patients who already have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. They may help show how well treatment is working or provide an early warning that a cancer has returned. Levels of CEA higher than 20 ng/ml are considered very high. Pete was up to 35 ng/ml before his surgery and now is at a 2 ng/ml, which is normal.
Being close to home for Pete’s chemo treatments was also key to his success. Evidence has proven that going through cancer treatments near loved ones and close to home have improved outcomes. Central Care Cancer Center is dedicated to keeping cancer care close to home. They have facilities throughout Kansas, mostly in rural settings, including Great Bend. Central Care Cancer Center is dedicated to making the patient their top priority by offering comprehensive cancer care including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, financial counseling and other supportive services all under one roof.
For Pete’s “I beat cancer” party, he thought it would be kind of selfish to just have a birthday party. “What I wanted was a thank you party for everybody's prayers. How do you pay someone back for their prayers? We had everyone and their dog praying for us and helping us out. And I thought while we're throwing a party, why don't we go an extra yard and see if we can prevent someone from having to go what we went through, and a lot of other people are going through.”
They got the word out about the party, but Pete and his wife Lois did not expect the nearly 500 people that turned out, including Dr. Stiles and Dr. Fesen, who spoke at the event.
“We were just trying to help some of our family and friends, and prevent them from having cancer. This was a good reason to get together instead of at a funeral service,” said Pete. Unfortunately Pete and his wife Lois have lost many relatives and friends to a variety of cancers.
Pete’s friend Karen added, “(The party) was an educational moment that opened a lot of eyes. We are all here for each other and we need to be here to support each other. The party got a lot of people thinking and talking. I was just moved by everybody who got up and spoke.”
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. According to the American Cancer Society, overall the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 23 for men and 1 in 25 for women. And on average, there’s a 1 in 3 chance that a person develops a form of invasive cancer. Pete adds, “if there was 500 people at the party, say 175 people may have cancer now and don’t know it, and if we could save those 175 by encouraging screening, what would that mean? (chuckling) I’d get a door in heaven!” Amen Pete. Amen.
Life is more important than a breast. That’s according to Vickie Brown, breast cancer survivor from Great Bend. She should know, as not only did she battle breast cancer in her right breast, and had a mastectomy, she battled breast cancer in her lung and a form of hormonal breast cancer outside her rectum. For the past 14 years, Vickie has been undergoing some sort of cancer treatment. She credits the help and support of a higher power, her husband, children, other family and friends, as well as Dr. Mark Fesen at Central Care Cancer Center in Great Bend.
It started back in 2004, when Vickie found a lump on her right breast. She went to her family physician and he aspirated it, but the lump came back. She had a drainage tube put in and had it drained three times before the surgeon suggested a lumpectomy. Up to this point, no one had mentioned cancer because all the tests performed never showed cancer, but it was cancer. What kind though, was to be determined.
Vickie went ahead and had a full right mastectomy on March 1st, 2005. Her lymph nodes were also removed. She ended up in Houston at MD Anderson with more doctors and testing, which now showed cancer in her lung. This is also where Vickie asked, “what can we do if it is cancer” and her young doctor said she was going to die.
After a few more tests in Houston, a biopsy discovered the lump in Vickie’s lung was breast cancer. “I had breast cancer in my lung. The strange thing is I had no breast cancer in my lymph nodes, I had no breast cancer anywhere else but this lump and in my lung. On top of that, it was diagnosed as HER2, not hormonal.” About 1 of 5 of breast cancers are HER2-positive, which is a more aggressive form of breast cancer. The breast cancer cells test positive for a protein receptor called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. Sometimes the gene that controls the HER2 protein, and your body, creates too much of these receptors. At that time, Vickie was prescribed the drug Herceptin.
Vickie’s family history includes colon, pancreatic and lung cancers, but no breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, about 5 to 10 percent of breast cancer cases are thought to be hereditary, meaning that they result directly from gene changes passed on from a parent.
However, since the beginning, Vickie had yet to see an oncologist and that’s where Dr. Mark Fesen from Central Care Cancer Center comes in. “I went for my first treatment on May 5th in 2005, and Dr. Fesen told me when I walked in the door, I can't cure you. But, I think I can make it chronic.”
A few months later, Dr. Fesen declared Vickie in remission. That’s after CT scans showed no more signs of breast cancer in her lung. Vickie continued to take Herceptin and other chemo drugs once a week for 18 months. That moved to once every two weeks and then finally a maintenance schedule of once every three weeks. She’s been on that schedule for 14 years in May of 2019.
During that time, Vickie had knee replacement surgery, broke her ankle which led to surgery, and just two years ago, got an infection in her port. She still has about 12 inches of line inside her from the subclavian vein to her heart. “It’s grown into the vein. So, I think my body just absorbs whatever. It just takes it on and keeps it.”
Throughout all of this, Vickie focuses on staying positive and she has some great stories to tell. “(When I was first diagnosed), I didn't know the doctor could give you a prescription for a prosthetic, so it was just me and my husband trying to figure out ways to keep my bra weighted down. He finally tried tying off the fingers to a rubber glove and filled it full. It worked, and I went man this is great, what is it? And he whispers…cat litter! I told him I'm going to have cats jump on me.” Vickie did have breast reconstructive surgery in 2011.
Vickie’s story doesn’t end there, as a year ago, during a regular colonoscopy there was a spot that looked suspicious. It turned out to be a type of hormonal breast cancer, which was located on the outside edge of her rectum. Once again, she was back with Dr. Fesen at Central Care Cancer Center. Vickie was taken off Herceptin and prescribed a chemo pill called Arimidex. She now sees the doctor, does a CT scan and has blood work done every three months.
“I have a very good support group. I have very good family and friends that support me, and I have always been treated very well at Central Care Cancer Center. I love this place. I was shocked when I didn’t have to go each week for some piddly thing.”
Vickie added, “I always think to myself there's always somebody worse than me. Always. I've had people that I've been sitting next to and I just want to put my arms over and say, here take some of me. Because I feel like sometimes, like if I just touch them, that I can help them.”
Breast cancer statistics show that monthly self-exams are important as well as getting an annual mammogram after the age of 40. 1 in 8 women and 10 percent of men will develop breast cancer. There is a 99 percent survivor rate if diagnosed with stage 1, 93 percent at stage 2 and 72 percent at stage 3 for breast cancer.
A routine mammogram for Karen Kindhart resulted in a biopsy, surgery and eight weeks of radiation therapy. Karen is a survivor of breast cancer. She credits her faith and loving family, Edward Jones, where she just recently retired from after 18 years and the staff and physicians at Central Care Cancer Center.
With no family history of cancer of any kind, Karen thought it would be easy enough to skip a mammogram once in a while, but the firm where she worked encouraged its employees to get mammograms, and paid for them too. In her annual mammogram, a lump was located. It was a lump not discovered by Karen during a self-exam or even by her doctor. As far as next steps goes, it began with prayer. “I am a woman of faith, and as terrified as I was, I knew that God would take my hand and walk me through it,” Karen said. “I had a biopsy done at Newman Regional Health and my surgery at KU Med Center (in Kansas City).”
It was there that Karen’s doctor encouraged her to have her radiation treatment at Central Care Cancer Center in Emporia. “When it came down to having treatments and scheduling treatments while still working full time, I was nervous about how I was going to be able to do treatments up there. So each day from work I would go to the post office, stop at Central Care for my treatment, go home for lunch and go back to work. It was all very simple, convenient and easy,” said Karen. Plus, by keeping her treatments local and close to home, Karen only missed four days of work from the time of diagnosis to the end of her treatments.
“I consider the staff at Central Care Cancer Center like family. The first time I walked in the door I was treated with a big smile and a warm welcome. As soon as I met Dr. Wong (Radiation Oncologist) and Justin (Branine, Radiation Oncology Manager), I knew I was in good hands,” Karen said. “There were points in the treatment that were hard, were difficult, and Justin and I had to make the decision whether to maybe stop and take a break for a couple of days or maybe go home for the day.”
I have cancer, Multiple Myeloma. At age 75, I chose to avoid bone marrow transplant therapy. Though I was frightened by the diagnosis, Dr. Anis Toumeh quickly put my mind at rest, noting that many other forms of treatment have been successful in controlling MM. I have been plagued with chronic anemia for a few years, prompting Dr. Toumeh to move into treatment while I still lingered in smoldering phase of Multiple Myeloma. After only four rounds of fairly comfortable treatment, I am making red blood cells again and having more energy these days!
I credit the progress to Dr. Toumeh’s invaluable expertise as an oncologist/hematologist and his ability to adapt treatment suited to my personal needs. Dr. Toumeh and his nursing staff have compassion for all their patients. The light atmosphere created by the nurses in the chemo room makes my treatment days so pleasant. My family and I have great confidence that my treatment at Central Care Cancer Center in Garden City is top-notch. My care is not compromised because I chose to be treated close to home. Thank you, Central Care Cancer Center!