• Cancer Patient Stories

    Four Words

This story was submitted by David Kelly from Saint Joseph, Mich.

We’ve been a part of the Mayo Experience since 1998.

Originally we began our treatment in a Chicago hospital. It was there that our two-year-old daughter, Hannah, had her first biopsy to determine what was causing a lump just below her right wrist. I’ll never forget that day after surgery when the doctor came out and told us, “I’ve done many biopsies similar to this one, and it appears that Hannah has cancer. The pathologist still needs to give his final report though.”

Hannah Kelly

Over the course of a week and a half no clear results were given to us, other than we would know as soon as they did. The doctors were even discussing sending out the biopsy slides for further study to another pathologist. The waiting game is bad enough when you’re in line for a ride at Disney World, but when you’re waiting to hear news on whether or not your child has cancer, it’s beyond description.

We had been put through the emotional ringer and weren’t sure that Chicago was the place for us. “Get yourself to Mayo,” urged a dear friend of mine. Those four words now mean the world to my family and me. Once there, we were thrilled to discover — within only a day — that it was a tumor known as fibromatosis, a soft tissue tumor that shows no sign of malignant features, and that might eventually dissipate with age.

Little did we know back in ’98 that our Mayo Experience would become far more than check-ups every two years to monitor a fibrous tumor.

Fast-forward to spring 2007… “My arm hurts,” Hannah said, as she rubbed her arm, looking for a little comfort from the pain after a basketball game.

“It’s nothing… You probably had it smacked during the game, and it irritated your tumor some,” was the quick diagnosis from Dad, who knew nothing of what was to come.

But that May, at age 10, Hannah was diagnosed with cancer. Our lives went from time spent on the southern shores of Lake Michigan in Saint Joseph, Mich., to time spent at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. I never gave much thought to visiting Rochester in the summer (or the winter for that matter). But when you want to do anything you can to see that your child is healthy and cancer-free, there’s no other place I would rather be than Mayo Clinic, under the best care around — any time of the year!

We knew from our previous visits that the doctors and nursing staff were the best around at what they do. What we learned over the course of Hannah’s six-month cancer treatment plan was that these were also individuals who went beyond treating the disease to taking care of the family as well — healing our family and our hearts as they treated the disease.

From Dr. Thomas Shives, who gave us the confidence that he could remove the tumor with clear margins; to Dr. Vilmarie Rodriguez, who guided us through the scary thing known as protocol. And from Dr. Nadia Laack, whose name means ‘hope’ – and she truly lived up to it in every way; to Dr. Alexander Shin who not only shared his expertise at reconstructing Hannah’s arm, but shared with us a deeper and more personal growth of faith beyond medicine. We came to know each doctor and nurse beyond the office visits and hospital stays. We learned about their families, their travels, their histories — and they in turn shared in ours. Mayo Clinic is more than phenomenal medical facilities housing top-notch medical teams — its people are our family.

“Your child has cancer.” Words I pray few ever have to hear, but if it does happen, I have four words to follow it with: “Get yourself to Mayo.” Mayo Clinic gave us confidence in what was to come, our faith sustained us and the various teams of doctors and nurses walked with us one step at a time.

Editor’s Note: David Kelly writes more about his family’s Mayo Clinic experience in his book, Time Out: A Family's Journey of Faith and Hope through Childhood Cancer.

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