Cancer, the word no one wants to hear. Can you imagine hearing it twice? This is exactly what happened to Mary Pat Hancock. There had been no family history of cancer in her family. It was very shocking for her to receive the news once, but it was more shocking to hear it a second time less than five years later after the first diagnosis. The word, alone, is something that will suck the breath out of you and make you want to give up. Where as many of us would have given up, Mary Pat told her doctors that she was willing to do whatever she needed to do in order to recover because she wanted to see her children grow older, and she wanted to grow older with the love of her life. Mary Pat was a fighter. She was determined not to give up. Here’s her story.
For a few months, Mary Pat noticed blood in her stool. Sometimes, it was light pink, and other times it was bright red in her stool. There were days when she felt an urgency to go right then. All things were uncommon in her body. I’ve written in other blog post. It is very important to know what is going on with your body and notice when you have changes going on. When this happens, it is important to seek medical attention. By doing this, it can save your life as it did for Mary Pat.
Mary Pat assumed she had irritable bowel syndrome. I asked her if she had previous diagnosis or stomach issues the reason she thought it. She hadn’t, but she just wasn’t believing it to be cancer. With her assumption of it being irritable bowel syndrome, she did not put too much concern in it. She had an appointment coming up in a few months with her gynecologist for her annual yearly check up. Mary Pat decided she would bring it up to her gynecologist at that appointment because said who likes talking about stool or bowel movements. There are not a lot of people that do. For this reason, colon cancer is the second leading cause of deaths in the United States (http://www.coloncancercoalition.org). Colon cancer is a very treatable disease. The 5 year survival rate is 90% when there has been early detection. This is why it is important to have a colonoscopy and get a health screening (http://www.cancer.org). Unfortunately, many people do not talk about it. March is colon cancer awareness month. Mary Pat wants people to make the topic of colon issues a normal casual conversation.
During a talk with her sister, Jenny Filgo, who is a nurse, about what was going on, Jenny advised her to seek medical help. She told Mary Pat to not wait a few months until she went to see her gynecologist to discuss what was going on. She told Mary Pat that she needed to see a doctor ASAP. It could be more than irritable bowel syndrome. A few years prior, Gary thought he might have had colon cancer. He had some issues going on. His only ended up being hemorrhoids. He advised Mary Pat to seek help as well. By listening to Jenny and Gary, it helped saved her life.
I’m sure you’re wondering if listening to Jenny and Gary saved her life how did teaching save her life. Mary Pat has been a teacher for 23 years. Teaching is her passion. She is a teacher that treats all children the same. If your children were taught by her, your children are blessed. With Mary Pat giving her all to her profession and her babies, their parents gave it all back to her. Let me be clear. Mary Pat did not go to any office asking or requesting any specific doctor. As a believer of Christ, she felt that all the doctors and nurses were aligned by God to take care of her during her time of preparation, the process, and the healing and were all God sent. She’d taken care of their children or grandchildren. Now, it was their time to take care of her.
With the advising of her family, Mary Pat made an appointment to see what was going on with her body. Her first visit was with Dr. Stephen Amann. She taught his sons in second grade. She told him what her suspicions were. Dr. Amann told her he wanted to have her do a colonoscopy to make sure she was well. Mary Pat was 47 at the time. She was worried about insurance not paying for it because of her age. Usually, insurance does not pay for the first colonoscopy for patients until the person is 50 years old. Dr. Amann told Mary Pat not to worry about insurance at the moment. Regardless if they paid or not, she needed the colonoscopy because of the symptoms she was having.
After she woke up from her colonoscopy, Dr. Amann said you need to sit up. He said I need everyone take a deep breath. Something was there. This is cancer. We’ve set up an appointment with Dr David Gilliland. She taught his son in second grade. Dr. Amann said you are to head there now. Mary Pat and Gary did not have the time to process what had been told to her. They had to immediately leave from Dr. Amann’s office and drive to Dr. Gillialand’s office. Just as other cancer, there are stages. Mary Pat was in stage 2 colon cancer. If she waited until the age of 50, she could have been in stage 4 cancer or even died before then.
Dr Gilliland had another scheduled event prior to Mary Pat’s appointment. He set up the appointment for Mary Pat to have surgery a week later. True to nature, Mary Pat taught each day leading up to her surgery.
They’d called some friends to let them know what was going on. Gary called her best friend, Sherry, and her sister to come and be with Mary Pat as he went to pick up Hayden from school. They did not want him to hear the words “your mom has cancer” from someone else. Sherry left work, and Jenny did not go in that day. She told Mary Pat that she felt in her spirit to take off work that day because she felt she needed to be there for Mary Pat. The Hancocks had the greatest support system with friends and family, and they are very appreciative still til this day.
Surgery was set for February 1, 2016. Two days later, Gary’s mom, Jo Ann Holloman, was diagnosed with colon cancer. Gary was being pulled from all directions trying to take care of his mom and his wife. Mary Pat told Gary to focus on his mom and taking her to doctor appointments. They relied on their friends and family to be there with Mary Pat while he took care of his mother. I’ll share more of Gary’s experience and journey in two weeks.
The removal of cancer in the colon surgery was successful. 18 inches of her colon was removed. The doctors were pleased and satisfied. They ran test, and it showed all the cancer had been removed. Her margins were clear. Mary Pat and Gary asked if she was going to have chemo or radiation even if it was only one round. With her test showing normal, statistically, it wasn’t a need. The reoccurrence rate was 2 out of 100. Therefore, there was no protocol for her to have it. She had to see Dr. Julian Hill, the oncologist, for follow up visits. At first, it was three months. It progressed to six, nine, and to yearly appointments. Scans and test were done to ensure no cancer has returned.
Things has gone well for three years. Mary Pat was scheduled for her 4 year appointment. For cancer patients, it is a victorious moment if the patient makes it to year 5 without the cancer reoccurring. Everything was well the previous years, Mary Pat was expecting the same thing. Why should year 4 be any different?
It is a day that Gary will never forget. Gary owns a roofing company. He and his business partner were on a roof. While he was working, he received a call from Nurse Nan Francis (Dr Hill’s nurse). Tupelo had a bad storm. Gary thought she was calling to have work done for her house. He would have given anything for that to have been the purpose of the call. Instead, Nurse Nan called Gary to let him know there was an issue with Mary Pat’s test. The office had run the test three times. His business partner said that Gary’s face turned whitish gray and told him that they needed to get off the roof. Nurse Nan informed Gary that Mary Pat’s tumor marker numbers were up and had never been in the previous years. Something was wrong, and they needed Mary Pat to come back in. Gary knew that Mary Pat was excited about her getting close to the 5 year marker. He asked Nurse Nan to allow him to be the one to tell her the news.
When he got home, Mary Pat was headed to Starkville to take Hayden something to MSU. He’d left something at the house over the weekend, and she was about to leave the home to take it to him. Gary had called Sherry to have support to deliver the news. He told Mary Pat to wait to go because Sherry was coming over. When Sherry came, she and Gary were acting strange. Mary Pat said what’s going on. Y’all are acting like someone called y’all and delivered bad news about my test. Gary began to cry. He said since you mentioned it. Yes. I got a call from Nan today. Your numbers are off. You have to have some more test. Mary Pat said I knew this was going to come back and get me. Gary reassured her that he would get through it this time just as they did the last time.
All the appointments and testing started back over again (blood work, sans, and CT scans). The doctors did not know where the cancer was in her body. With the numbers being so high, they knew it was there. October 2019, the doctors found a cyst on one of her ovaries. Everything else was clear. The doctors said if the ovaries are removed that it should put the tumor marker numbers back in line. This surgery would have to be done at UAB hospital in Birmingham because Mary Pat had to have a specialist for gynecology/oncology. Her surgery was set for December 26, 2019 to have the ovaries removed.
When the doctors went to remove both ovaries, only, one ovary was there. The doctors said it was probably from the colon surgery. Originally, the doctors wanted to perform her colon removal laparoscopically. Due to the location of the tumor, Mary Pat had to be cut from the top of her chest to her pubic bone. All her inside organs had to be removed and placed in sterile surgery bags during the surgery. The ovary removal surgery was successful. Compared to the eight night colon recovery stay in the hospital, this time was only overnight stay at UAB. Mary Pat was scheduled to come back in six weeks for a check up.
Remember, the ovary removal was to reduce the tumor marker numbers and eliminate the possibility of cancer in her body. Instead her numbers were 5 points higher. The doctors relooked all the test and scans and were unable to find anything. They said your CT scans are all clear and gave her a clean bill of health. Mary Pat and Gary decided to celebrate with a few family and friends at Old Venice restaurant because they’d received the clean bill of health news.
They weren’t there 20 minutes when Mary Pat received a call from her guardian angel. He said hey. I know you’re out celebrating and having dinner with your friends. I heard you received news that you were all clear. Mary Pat, you’re not all clear. There’s a spot in your liver. I think the cancer is there………………………………………….