You Are Not Alone: Doug’s Story
It was May 4, 1993, and my wife and I hurried for my 5:00 appointment with my colon surgeon. I’d been having some issues, and now we were to find out what was causing them.
Shortly after we sat down, he said, “Doug, you have rectal cancer, and I think we should operate immediately.”
I was shocked. I was only 49, too young for such a thing. And I was fit, playing racquetball three or four times a week. A thousand questions and crazy emotions enveloped me. How extensive was my cancer? How far had it spread? Was I going to die? Would I ever see my children through college and marriage? Would I ever see their children? What about my mom and dad, and brother Don? And what would happen to my wonderful high school sweetheart, Georgie, whom I had married 26 years ago?
Although overwhelmed with anxiety, we went ahead with our plans to have a Christian speaker at our home that evening with about 40 friends and neighbors. Afterward, when they learned of my cancer diagnosis, they were both stunned and supportive as they showered me with their prayers, love, and compassion.
Through a network of friends, I found a colorectal specialist in Philadelphia with whom I began treatment with a unique routine not practiced at the time in the Lehigh Valley. I would wear a chemotherapy pack and receive infusions 24/7, as well as receive 42 doses of high radiation therapy five days a week for eight and a half weeks.
My wife and brother were my primary drivers to Philadelphia every morning, but I had 15 other friends who shared the driving responsibilities. I was lucky, because while in the radiation waiting room, I saw too many people who had no friends, no support, and were going through this alone. I vowed to myself that if I were to make it through this Cancer Battle, I would try to come alongside these precious, lonely folks and do what I could to reach out to them.
Various side effects during and after chemotherapy delayed my surgery for seven weeks. Finally, though, it was scheduled; the surgeon would remove the tumor and try to preserve my sphincter muscles. The night before the seven-hour operation, I was “marked up” for a colostomy, although I went into surgery thinking otherwise. When the doctor awakened me following the procedure, he was optimistic about having removed the cancerous tumor, but apologized for having given me a permanent colostomy. After he left, I said candidly to the nurse, “I guess I lost the battle, but won the war.”
I developed complications from my pain management treatment and spent 12 days in the hospital. During that time I became familiar with my new colostomy and named it Kramer. My recovery continued at home for two months, and then I returned to work.
My cancer challenge was a life-changing experience. My faith was strengthened as God evidenced Himself to us in many ways, further confirming our faith. Unlike many others we saw, I had a tremendous support system. I learned that the Cancer Battle requires a proactive approach; that we need to live every day to the fullest; and that we should give back with our time, talents, love, and compassion where possible.
A number of years later I was invited to a Pool Trust-sponsored event about a program in Philadelphia called the Wellness Community, offering education, support, and hope to people with cancer and their caregivers, who I knew deserved and needed support, too. As I watched and listened, I could not help but think of all those people I spent time with at the hospital who had no one with them.
A nucleus of individuals met, formed a non-profit corporation, leased, and renovated a building–and the Wellness Community-Greater Lehigh Valley (now the Cancer Support Community) was formed. My brother Don, a prostate cancer survivor, served on the founding board with me, along with a number of friends and community leaders.
To complement our efforts, we initiated a Charles B. Patt Jr. (our father) golf tournament 16 years ago. Through the support of wonderful, dedicated friends, family, and corporations, we have donated more than $460,000 to an Endowed Lectureship in Oncology at Lehigh Valley Hospital and the balance to the Cancer Support Community.
Our family is blessed to be part of an organization in which almost 24,000 people have participated since its inception. Thank you for allowing us to share our story. Thanks to the staff of the Cancer Support Community for their dedication, compassion, and outreach!