• Cancer Patient Stories

    “It really should be called The Mayo Family”

Andrew Mork is being treated at Mayo Clinic for juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma, a rare cancer of the brain and spinal cord. Andrew's mother, Corrie, shared their Mayo Clinic last summer via e-mail, and they also decided to tell about their experience via video when Andrew was in Rochester for appointments. Mrs. Mork's e-mail is below, along with some video snippets and a January update:

My son Andrew left last summer (2008) for San Antonio, TX for Lackland Air Force Base for basic training. Little did we know that when we received a phone call hoping and praying that it was Andrew letting us know that everything was going well, it was a doctor on the other end telling us that they found a mass at the base of Andrew's brain.

Andrew had a doctor at the Air Force base, Dr. Lyell Jones, who is a neurologist and had actually done his residency at Mayo Clinic with Dr. Uhm. We recently had an appointment with Dr. Uhm and he was pleased to let us know that Dr. Jones will be returning to Mayo Clinic in July after his retirement from the Air Force. (Editor's note: Since this was written, Dr. Jones has returned to practice at Mayo Clinic.)

If it wasn't for Dr. Jones insisting that Andrew get to the Mayo Clinic I really have no idea what the outcome would have been for him.

We have had past experiences with the Mayo Clinic about six years ago with our daughter and it was just as wonderful as it is now.

Andrew has a very rare brain and spinal cord cancer, which he finished radiation for on May 8, and on May 12 he underwent surgery for a pilonidal cyst. When this heals he will then have surgery on his hips for avascular necrosis.

It's funny when you think about all of these problems that he has going on and yet he continues to have a positive attitude about it all. Andrew is 19 and his life has been put on hold, yet he doesn't let it bother him. I can't quite figure it out, but all I know is he has this amazing ability to defy the doctors and everyone else. He doesn't listen to what could be the worst-case scenario and hasn't from the beginning, instead he listens with his heart and soul.

Andrew's radiation oncologist is Dr. Nadia Laack. Without her and her willingness to get the appropriate treatment for Andrew, I don't think life would be somewhat normal for us.

It's funny, when I flew to Texas to be with Andrew while he was in the hospital, Dr. Jones came in, introduced himself to me, looked me straight in the eyes and told me "Do you know that I haven't had a decent night’s sleep since your son came into this hospital? I am up every night thinking about him, how we are going to get him better.“

When Andrew was in his fourth week of radiation, we were waiting for Dr. Laack to come in for Andrew's weekly visit. After checking Andrew out, we began talking and she looked at Andrew and me and said, "Last week I went to a conference on cancers of the brain and spinal cord. I talked about your cancer with many colleagues who have dealt with patients with the same type and in the same area as yours. We discussed how many treatments and the dosage of radiation. I can now tell you that I am able to sleep soundly at night knowing that we are taking care of you appropriately. Do you know that even before I met you, I knew about you and your cancer and haven't had a decent night’s sleep until after this conference."

Andrew and I just laughed and told her about Dr. Jones and what he had said.

The caring and compassion of the Mayo Clinic is above anything I have ever come across. I worked in an Emergency Room for 12 years and our hospital is nothing like yours. Your attention to detail, the privacy of others, the smiles, and the compassion you give are above anything I have ever seen or experienced. We are not rushed in and out like an assembly line; you treat the patients and families with care. No matter what part Andrew and I have been to, there hasn't been one employee who has been in a foul mood.

The Mayo Clinic should not have Clinic in its name. It really should be called The Mayo Family, because with the experience we have had over the past 8 months, it has truly been a family and not just a clinic.

Andrew is a smart kid and has not given up hope that a cure will be found for his cancer. At this point there is no cure for him. Our only hope is that his cancer is a slow growing type, so we have more years than most do.

One more thing: Last week we watched the last part of Farrah Fawcett's story. During one part, she was reading from her journal and had said that there isn't a day that goes by that she doesn't think about dying from the cancer that she has.

I heard from the other side of the living room, "Huh" I looked over and asked Andrew what he meant by that. He said, "There isn't a day that goes by that I EVER think about dying from cancer." I said, "Really? What about the day we were told that the pathology report came back and it was cancer, you and I cried when we found out." Andrew said that is was a shock to him to hear it, only because he really believed he didn't have cancer. Andrew then said to me, "I couldn't imagine going through life thinking about dying from cancer everyday. That's not how I want to live my life, I just don't let it bother me."

Smart kid, I wish we could all think like him. I truly believe that with all that has happened and all that is happening currently, without the Mayo Family, Andrew wouldn't have this positive outlook on life.

Update: Mrs. Mork sent the following in January, in advance of his nine month post-radiation checkup, which is coming up Feb. 18.

We have been returning to Mayo every three months for repeat MRI's and check ups with Andrew's doctors. I will say that being a parent and wanting everything to be back to "normal" hasn't happened.

During our September 28 visit Andrew's tumor had grown 1 mm in size, but according to the doctors they are uncertain if it is from radiation or it is actually growing. There was a "tail" of cancer cells that were going downward farther into his spinal cord and those have since disappeared. Thank the good Lord for that.

Andrew's spirits are up and he continues to remain positive, considering he has lost a lot of weight and cannot gain it back. The radiation really took a toll on him and his appetite and continues to do so. Currently he is applying for cancer scholarships for college and we hope that he will be able to begin college in the fall of 2010.

Andrew has faced a lot of battles since the fall of 2008, but he continues to move forward and fight like a hero... my hero.

To view Andrew's update after more than a year and a half later, including a new video with both Andrew and his mom, click here.

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