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Adan’s Story: From Treating Patients to Becoming One

 

Adan: At times, when you are put in front of what's coming,you could almost come to a decision where you may say no, I don't want to go through this. And then your family, your children, your universe, compels you to go through the journey.

Dr. Karni: Adan's case was different, not because he was a physician, but because I care for him deeply as a good friend of mine. And so when Adan was diagnosed with cancer, it was deeply personal.

Mary Beth: Being a physician is the most important thing in Adan's life, and Memorial Hermann recognized that. That made the difference.

Adan: One day I wake up and my left side of the neck was swollen. My first impulse was that I had developed a lymphoma, because I thought, I have seen it so many times. And I thought, oh my god, I had a lymphoma.

Mary Beth: He had some swelling around it initially, and the swelling had gone down, but the lymph node was still there, and I could measure lymph node.

Adan: So at that point in time we came to see Dr. Karni.

Dr. Karni: He came into my office. I think he had called me maybe a day or two earlier and said, I just need to talk to you about something. He said I have this knot in my neck. I was immediately concerned, and on the spot I performed a needle biopsy of that lump in his neck.

Adan: I saw the blood leaving his face, and I realized immediately that he had seen something.

Dr. Karni: The diagnosis came quick. It was a squamous cell cancer. We all sat there trembling, there were many tears in that room that day-- not just Dr. Rios and his wife, but those of us who know and love him very much.

Mary Beth: I've been in oncology for almost 40 years, and I see people that are stunned by their diagnosis every single day. And when it happens, it's so shocking. For us it was like, oh my god, I can't believe this.

Dr. Karni: And so of course the next step, like all cancer patients, was to get some imaging, a PET scan, maybe some CAT scans. At the base of his tongue, there was a suggestion that there was maybe something there to catch our attention. About a week or two later, as in many patients, we took a trip to the operating room. It's not a day I'll ever forget. On that day I did what's called a laryngoscopy, which confirmed, indeed, that that was part of this cancer. At that point he was ready to start treatment.

Dr. Blanco: His program consisted of seven weeks of radiation and chemotherapy. We chose a very traditional approach in combining chemotherapy and radiation, because we know that for all the head and neck cancers combined and analyzed together, it gives you the best chance of survival and the best chance of what we call local control. This technology can greatly reduce some of the acute and late toxicities. Some of the most common are mutation of the skin, altered taste, the inability to swallow-- Dr. Rios experienced all of these side effects to a certain degree. The important thing, though, is that the tumor got treated successfully.

Dr. Karni: I think Adan struggled. There were some dark times, but I knew that he would recover. The battle itself is busy, they're going through the motions, but on the last day of treatment there's this deafening silence. You feel different, you are different. I think the best metaphor for this that I have found are the folks that come back from war. There's war survivors and there's cancer survivors. Really, that's all encapsulated by the word survivorship, which is one of the best things we do at Memorial Hermann in our cancer program.

Adan: What was really important to me was how compassionate they were. And it wasn't, I know you are Dr. Rios, it was you're a patient, and I'm going to take care of you.

Mary Beth: Things started to turn around probably about four weeks after he finished the radiation, because the burns on his neck started to heal, his pain started to decrease-- we were able to start assuming somewhat of a normal life.

Dr. Karni: Around eight weeks after the treatment there came a pivotal moment all of a sudden. One day I called him and he said, I'm too busy, I've got three or four patient phone calls, call me later. And I kind of knew, as I put the phone, that we had Adan back again. I think our success is not just cure-- it's cure and recovery. It's bringing Adan back to where he belongs, which is right here taking care of cancer patients with us.

Mary Beth: They did the best they could possibly do to take care of both of us. And I'm very grateful to Ron Karni, to Angel Blanco, and to Jorge Quesada and the team at Memorial Hermann. They were phenomenal.