When Elton Parrish learned he had bladder cancer, he nearly passed up treatment.
At age 93, the Selma businessman figured he had lived a good, long life, and any treatment would be worse than the disease. “I thought this might be my time to go,” he said.
But early on, his urologist and oncologists reassured Parrish that a course of radiation and chemotherapy would kill the tumor. When a PET scan showed that the cancer had not spread, he felt even more hopeful.
To his credit, Parrish did everything right. When his urologist found a benign tumor in his bladder 10 years ago, he removed it and scheduled Parrish for regular check-ups. He never missed an appointment, and then called his urologist in March when he saw blood in his urine.
From his scope, his urologist could see the tumor, the size of a match head.
A few weeks later, Parrish started his regimen of daily radiation and chemotherapy twice a week for six weeks. He finished both courses in mid-May. Today, his oncologists feel certain his cancer is gone.
Parrish says he had a few hot and cold flashes from chemo and fatigue from the radiation, but nothing like the side effects he’d imagined. “It was not the end of the world,” he says. “The cancer was curable.”
Crystal Rose, director of medical oncology, says patients have better outcomes when their cancer is caught early. Too often, she sees patients who get a late-stage diagnosis after being seen for a health crisis in the emergency department. “They’ve never had a family doctor or preventive care,” she says. “By the time we get them as patients, their cancer is too advanced.”
Rose says most cancer patients are 65 and older. “In our country, we are living longer. And as we age, we do have a greater chance of getting cancer.”
At the clinics, the team treats the whole patient, not just the disease. “We have counselors who assist with any issues, dietitians who help plan healthful meals, and chaplains who offer spiritual care. A navigator is available to help patients along their journey,” she adds.
Rusty Anderson, M.D., the hospital’s longest-serving medical oncologist, says cancer treatment has evolved dramatically in the last 20 years. “Chemotherapy is safer and more tolerable. And we now have more medications to prevent most unwanted side effects,” he says.
Also notable, the advancements in science. “In just a few days, we can get cancer gene sequencing from many patients’ cancers to help identify and utilize tailored therapies,” he says. “When I started college, no gene had ever been sequenced.”
Susan Watson says she’s thankful her dad could receive his cancer care close to home. “There was a time when you automatically thought of going to Raleigh or Durham or Chapel Hill,” she says. “The team at Johnston Health was so kind. They brightened our spirits.”
Rose says her dedicated team is always hopeful and positive. “I believe we have more joy, faith, and miracles than any place in the world, and that patients and families feel our love and compassion as soon as they walk in the door,” she notes.
Before his cancer diagnosis, Parrish walked two miles a day along the dirt path at his home on North Webb Street in Selma. The family dog parked herself about mid-way to keep any eye on him.
Although he’s doing fewer laps these days, Parrish says he’s determined to get back to his routine, which includes tending the hydrangeas, a large blackberry bush, and the tomato plants in his backyard.