Cancer Patient Story: Myrna McLeroy

Cancer Patient Myrna McLeroy Texas Rancher and Executive Tells Her Own Story

Myrna McLeroy, who has a rare form of cancer, is beating the odds after treatment at the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Clinical Cancer Center, where a team of cancer specialists focused on her disease with coordinated treatment and the most advanced care available.

Myrna traveled to Milwaukee for treatments from her ranch in Gonzales, Texas, a sleepy town of about 7,000 that happens to be where Texas’ revolutionary break from its southern neighbor began. She is a gas and oil industry veteran who founded a successful energy land services company 30 years ago in an industry that still calls its executives “land men.”

With that fighting spirit in her blood, it’s no surprise that upon discovery of cancer in 2006, she sought the best care possible — at Froedtert & the Medical College — and has journeyed with strength and determination. At the Center, she found one of the nation’s leading pancreatic and endocrine cancer experts and a team of talented caregivers who “talked straight” with her, offering hope and compassion.

Myrna tells her own story the best:

In March of 2006, I saw an internist in Houston, Texas, because of severe pain in my abdomen. After several scans and tests, she referred me to an oncologist. After more tests and scans the oncologist’s diagnosis was a carcinoid tumor. Carcinoid tumors are very rare, low grade, slow growing and cannot be treated by chemo or radiation. The tumor was located in the mesentery area, tissue that connects part of the small intestine and the back abdomen wall, and further tests revealed the tumor had spread to the liver.

The doctor explained that a textbook case of this type of tumor gives the patients three to five years of life after diagnosis, depending on the treatment and extent of the disease, and he suggested that I probably had had this tumor for at least three years. He did not recommend surgery because of a quality of life issue. There is a drug that can be given monthly to aid in dealing with the symptoms of the tumor, but it will not cure it. There is no known cure for this disease.

After extensive questioning, I felt I had all the information I could deal with at that visit, thanked the doctor, and said I would like to give this some thought and would be back to discuss it further.

During the walk from his office to the parking lot I began to feel a sense of fear that can only be called gut wrenching. I began to pray that God take away the fear so I could think, and give me peace that He is in control. I prayed incessantly as I drove to my daughter’s house. By the time I arrived at her house, I had my brains back and a sense of stillness or peace — not the frantic feeling I had felt before. I truly was thinking slowly and deliberately, listening to that gut feeling called the Holy Spirit. I discussed everything with my daughter and son. We decided to sit still for a while and pray and think about what to do.

On the home front, I discovered a friend of mine had lost a family member to the same disease. It had been diagnosed several years ago and was considered inoperable. This was extremely unusual that two people in a small town of 7,000 people would have this type of cancer. (My daughter and I considered this providential.) From my friend, I learned more about the disease and how it proceeds. A very vivid picture was painted for me about what it can do to you and the importance of the quality of life you could enjoy before cancer wins the battle. I listened intently and this information was invaluable in making my decision for the type of treatment for my disease.

My kids and I decided to talk to an extended family member, Dr. Ralph Ligon, MD, who was chief of surgery at Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital, a community hospital in Houston. He insisted that I see two doctors at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center: Dr. James Yao, a medical oncologist specializing in carcinoids, and surgeon Douglas Evans, MD. Dr. Evans’ diagnosis was exactly the opposite of the first doctor. He suggested that I get the tumor removed now, and Dr. Evans was confident that he could get everything he could see. A liver surgeon would be at the operation at the same to evaluate the liver and cut any visible tumors on the liver. We scheduled surgery for September of 2006.

By the time September came around I was feeling insecure with my decision to get the tumor cut out. After pre-operative tests, I was told my heart, lungs and kidneys were in great shape, and for my age, I was a great candidate for this operation. But I must remember that I was 68 years old and at that age anything could happen. And, one of the best things I had going was my positive attitude and enthusiasm. But that enthusiasm waned a little as the surgery time came closer. I was praying that God would lead me as to what to do, and I postponed the operation. I asked how long I had before it couldn’t be removed, and Dr. Evans suggested it should be done within the year.

My family and I decided to seek another opinion and soon, because it takes time to see doctors, make decisions, perform tests. Dr. Yao suggested we see the foremost carcinoid authority in the United States, a doctor at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa, Fla. He also warned me that it might take months to get an appointment with this specialist, so I had better start trying immediately. I called the office number of Dr. Larry Kvols, medical oncologist, and HE answered the phone!!!!! I explained who I was, who had sent me, and I had his interest. He said he could see me in two days, or in two weeks when he got back from Italy where he would attend a carcinoid conference, and at which he expected to visit with Dr. Yao. I made an appointment for a month later; time enough to have certain tests done that he needed. I told him I was surprised he answered the phone and he said HE NEVER DOES!!!!! To me this was providential.

My appointment at Moffitt lasted about 45 minutes. Dr. Kvols told me that if I was his “momma,” he would recommend that I get the tumors cut out, and have it done at M.D. Anderson because the surgeon I had seen there was one of the best in the world for this type of operation. I was fortunate. There was no need to stay in Florida ... go back to Dr. Doug Evans. My daughter said, “Mom, there you have it!!!”

So we went back home, called Dr. Evans, and scheduled the operation for Jan. 6, 2007. The time spent from March of 2006 to January of 2007 was a very exciting time. I had turned everything over to God, went through the motions of doing what the Holy Spirit led me to do, one thing at a time. All done with enthusiasm and peace that God was in control and whatever happened was His will. I just went through the motions as He led. And at the same time tried to keep a handle on a job in a quickly expanding energy title service industry, family events, play the piano at church, participate in board responsibilities which included a Christian school board, oil and gas company board, newspaper board, and state river authority board, and keep watch on a farm where I raise miniature donkeys, dwarf Nigerian goats and horses. The most remarkable thing about this time is that I was happy, enthusiastic and enjoying life. I talked to the Lord at a moment’s notice, thanked Him often for his blessings during this important time. Thanked him for being there for me, giving me peace to do what I had to do, and most of all for saving me. A friend once said to me, "I don’t know how you function." My answer was simple: "I’m not in control. So I don’t have to worry."

The day of the operation came. I had come to enjoy my times with Dr. Evans. He made me feel confident; he was patient and personable. I was joking with my son as they rolled me into the operating room and he made the comment, “Mom, I don’t know if I could go through this.” My answer: “David, we are going to spend eternity somewhere — it’s God’s grace and us as to where we spend it. I made that decision a long time ago … it’s a win-win situation. If I die on the operating table, I go to be with Jesus; if I don’t die I get to stay here with you!”

The rest is history.

They removed three tumors in the mesentery area, removed part of my small intestine and colon, and 10 percent of my liver. I was told they removed everything they could see, but could not guarantee they got all the disease. Because it is so slow growing, they could monitor it regularly and dispose of any growths as they were detected. Chemotherapy and radiation would be of no effect. This was as good news as is possible with this disease.

My August 2009 scans revealed more tumors had grown in the liver. The decision was to try clinical trials or go for debulking (removal of as much of a tumor as possible) again.

“So I went back to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, talked to Dr. Larry Kvols again, and after reviewing the scans and other tests, he suggested that I call Dr. Evans. He was aware that Dr. Evans had now joined Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin. His comment to me was (with a smile on his face) “are you allergic to travel?” I said, absolutely not, went back to Houston and called Dr. Evans.

This time it wasn't so easy to get to talk to him, but we soon connected on his cell phone on a Sunday. (What a dedicated physician!!) I made plans to fly to Milwaukee and was there in a few days. I met with Dr. Evans and Kathleen Christians, MD, Medical College of Wisconsin surgeon, for consultation. Dr. Christians was confident that she could perform the surgery, and Dr. Evans agreed that we should go ahead. Just a couple of days later, things went well in surgery. Nine tumors were taken out of my liver and two others were destroyed using heat (radiofrequency ablation). I was in Froedtert Hospital for 10 days, and then at Kathy's House, a hospitality house for out-of-town patients, for three weeks. Dr. Christians wanted to be sure that I was responding to nutrition and recuperating well before I flew home.

I can’t tell you enough good things about Froedtert Hospital and care received there. The most obvious is the seven days on, seven days off schedule for the nurses. The nurses get to know you and your issues, and they don't have to relearn each time a shift changes.

Things went well when I got back to Texas. Then, in the spring of 2010, a carcinoma showed up on my thyroid. Dr. Yao at M.D. Anderson explained what it was, and said that I would need an endocrine surgeon. Smiling, he said "I think you know one.” I replied, “Yes, I do,” and went back home, called Dr. Evans again, and got on a plane to Milwaukee.

Dr. Evans performed the surgery to remove my thyroid the last week of March of 2010. Today, I've completely recovered and am being monitored by a doctor at M.D. Anderson who worked with Dr. Evans previously.

One of the most fortunate things about my whole experience is the team effort demonstrated by Dr. Yao and the other physicians at M.D Anderson, Dr. Larry Kvols at Moffitt Cancer Center and the staff at Froedtert & the Medical College who work with Dr. Evans. There are no egos. These are people with God-given talents who use them every day to make life better for their patients. The primary concern is my well-being, and it is definitely obvious. I am the most fortunate person in the world to have found these doctors in my battle against the carcinoid tumor.

I hope in my struggle, in some way, I can help future patients with this disease deal with it and not give up hope. It is manageable. And the patient’s attitude is a large percent of the effort. That attitude is aided by the wonderful physicians and staff who talk straight with you, tell you exactly what you are up against so you can deal with it, and then work hard to help you manage the disease.

Words are not enough to tell you of the blessings I have received through this experience. I get excited just trying to tell you about it. All of the decisions described above were made after much prayer and listening to the Lord to know what He wanted me to do. By the way, that first prayer asking God to take away the fear — I have never had one ounce of fear since that day. It's amazing how that works when He’s in control!!!!!

Myrna McLeroy 

Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Clinical Cancer Center

The Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Clinical Cancer Center offers comprehensive care in one location. Each specialized cancer program includes a complete team of physician experts who focus on a particular form of cancer or group of related cancers. For patients, the benefits are completely coordinated treatment and the most advanced care available. Learn more about our disease-specific cancer programs or to make an appointment, call 866-680-0505.


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