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December 7, 1941 was labeled by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a "Day of Infamy" after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. For my wife, Anne, and me the date was April 13, 2009 when we heard from our family doctor that Anne had metastatic colon cancer. The most unbelievable thing to us was that she had had no symptoms at all--no bowel changes, no bleeding, pain or weight loss. What she did have was a "bump" in her upper abdomen which felt like a lipoma (small fatty tumor). She noted it when we were away for a weekend with some friends.
On the Monday we returned, she called our family doctor, who thought she may have a gallbladder problem. He ordered an abdominal ultrasound which was done 3 days later. This showed that she had several masses in her liver. Since she was so asymptomatic, and they were so big, it was hard to imagine they were "bad" but an abdominal CT scan performed the next day (and reported to him on April 13th) showed our worst fears: colon cancer that involved lymph nodes and had metastasized to the liver.
Our family doc, who is a friend and also goes to our church, immediately scheduled a colonoscopy, and a metastatic workup which included a CT scan of her lungs, brain, and a bone scan. He also called an oncologist here in Saginaw, another friend (I'm an orthopaedic surgeon, so I know most of the doctors in town), who insisted we go to the Mayo Clinic without doing anything here other than the scans. Of course I knew about the Mayo Clinic, but other than referring the occasional patient here over the years, had never been to it.
Our doctors at home set up the appointments for us. We had our first appointment on April 20th with Sheila Buehler, a nurse practitioner, in the department of Gastroenterology, who took a lengthy history, performed a physical exam, and then laid out the upcoming schedule for us. After Anne had some blood work performed, we met with Dr. Ahlquist in the department of Gastroenterology, who reviewed everything and also went over everything with us. We met with our oncologist Dr. Banck, and with surgeon Dr. Levine as well. Anne underwent several tests and procedures before starting chemotherapy on April 27th--only 2 weeks after her diagnosis.
Our experience at Mayo Clinic was nothing short of fantastic. We were always treated with respect and compassion. Everyone we had contact with was friendly and helpful. They worked very hard to get our appointments scheduled as close as possible to get things done efficiently.
There were 2 things that I think were outstanding. The first is the culture of the organization, which is pervasive throughout, that the concerns of the patient come first. There is no question about it, but everyone treats you this way, from the nurses to the doctors, the delivery people to the secretaries. We were comforted at all levels, and made to feel special. Everyone is friendly. For us, with this type of diagnosis, it was very welcome and comforting. It is hard to pick out specific people because everyone was so wonderful, but the oncology nurses in particular were spectacular.
A second thing that stood out was the amount of patient education available--and it's everywhere, even in the chapel at St. Marys Hospital! There is a wonderful Cancer Library in the Gonda building that has a ton of patient info as well as medical texts. The "librarian" offered to obtain articles or copies of anything we wanted. We also attended two talks given by staff--one on chemotherapy and a second on nutrition for cancer patients. They were both very informative--and more handouts were given. We wound up with a shopping bag full of material to refer to. In addition to all of this, the nurses and doctors made sure we understood everything we were told, and we were given copies of a lot of our reports and results to bring home with us for our local physicians.
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, that we were thoroughly impressed with our experience at the Mayo Clinic. Several of the things we experienced I plan on initiating here in Saginaw. If and when Anne needs surgery, we plan on returning to the Mayo Clinic, even though the physicians here are of good quality and also my friends. I just really get the impression that the Mayo physicians are the best--and nothing less than that is good enough for my wife.
Editor's note: Dr. de Bari is chronicling his family's journey in their Our Faith Journey blog.