In situations like this, questions beg for answers. For every answer you think you get, there are caveats, considerations and ramifications that are not easily seen from the beginning and clarity can turn out to be nothing more than an illusion.
But you go on.
The weekend of Joanie’s birthday was spent with friends and trying not to think much about what we’d be dealing with come Monday morning.
We had an idea of what our next step would be, and that was finding a place for treatment for Joanie, and it was one time, probably the only one, when we were ahead of the doctors.
Her doctor, Dr. Jan Bury had told us that, Joanie would need to see a gynecologist-oncologist. That meant a physician who specialized in gynecologic cancers. There were gynecologists in Bismarck. There were oncologists in Bismarck, but there were no gynecologist-oncologists in Bismarck. In fact, she told us there were none in North Dakota, at least at that time. She said that Denver was a possibility, as was Kansas City, where she had done her residency, and of course Rochester at the Mayo Clinic. There was also the possibility of the University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinic, now the University of Minnesota Medical Center-Fairview.
Over the last few days of talking with friends, we had met with a woman from Bismarck who had the been diagnosed with the same thing Joanie was now facing, and had been treated successfully at the U of M, and she gave us the name of the doctor who had treated her. That was a start.
As Joanie and I talked it over on the weekend, we ruled Denver out immediately. It was way to far, and we didn’t know anyone there. Kansas City was ruled out for the same reasons. Rochester was an option, however it was a bit further than Minneapolis, and we didn’t know anyone there either. We had decided that we would go there if that were the only option, but preferred Minneapolis/St. Paul because we had friends there and Joanie had a sister in St. Paul. We also knew the Twin Cities well so we wouldn’t have the added stress of being in a strange city, and it was only a 6 hour drive from Bismarck, if you were in a hurry, maybe 6 1/2 if you weren’t.
Since we were dealing with the unknown as far as how long we’d have to be gone, how often we’d have to be gone and the expenses of being gone, we figured the closer we were to Bismarck the better. However, our primary concern was getting her treated and putting this behind us, and if that meant going somewhere besides Minneapolis, we’d find a way.
After we had talked to our friends in Bismarck, I made a couple of calls to some friends in Minneapolis who were quite familiar with the medical community there at the time. One was former North Dakota Gov. Al Olson, whom I had worked for in the early 80’s, and the other was Tom Forsythe, whom I worked with in that office. I outlined the issue Joanie was facing, and the options, which we had boiled down to U of M or Mayo.
A day or two later they both called, and told me for what Joanie was dealing with that the Women’s Cancer Center at the U of M was the place to go.
Joanie and I visited about it, and that was the choice we decided on, and that was the decision we were prepared to take to Dr. Bury Monday morning. At least we would be able to provide an answer ourselves to the question of what do we do in terms location of treatment, if not what the treatment would be. It was a decision we never regretted.
Monday morning, the 13th of May, we got to Dr. Bury’s office, and we were informed that all of the results of the biopsies and examinations were in, and they were calling it Stage II-A cervical cancer. This news had some significance, but we really didn’t know how significant it would be in terms of treatment options until later. After the disappointment of not being able to do a cone biopsy, we thought now we had something positive to hang on to, even if we didn’t completely understand what it was. We were thinking, “Well, II-A has gotta be better than a Stage III, so that’s a good thing.” These are the kind of thoughts you cling to when you are trying to put a positive spin on situation that you don’t completely understand. Bury explained that in Joanie’s case, Stage II-A meant the cancer had moved off the cervix and involved the upper part of the vagina, even though the vaginal involvement was minimal. Again, that sounded like positive news to us.
Dr. Bury told us she had consulted with a doctor in Kansas City where she had done her residency as to whether or not, at Stage II-A, Joanie would be a good candidate for a radical hysterectomy, and the consensus was she would be. That wasn’t exactly what Joanie wanted to hear, but when she heard some of the other options that could be pursued, she didn’t take long making a decision.
Bury also explained to us another options would be radiation or possibly a combination of radiation and chemotherapy.
Hearing that, it didn’t take Joanie long to make up her mind, and I think just the thought of radiation and the possibility of chemo did it for her. While she hadn’t heard any horror stories about radiation, she had heard her share of stories surrounding chemotherapy, and knew that her father had dealt with it, and my sister had gone through extremely difficult times with chemo. She decided she would take her chances on the radical hysterectomy with the hopes that it would take care of the cancer once and for all.
Joanie told Dr. Bury we had decided on Minneapolis as the location for treatment, and to go ahead and make the arrangements for a referral to the Women’s Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota, now the Gynecologic Cancer Cinic. Dr. Bury told us she would call when an appointment had been made.