Patient Story: Lucy
My introduction to the wonderful team at UCLA was in 1997 when my late husband Cliff Groh Sr. was considering major surgery to remove and stop the spread of cancer. The surgery would have been very invasive with a long recovery period. A friend put us in touch with Dr. Michael Phelps, inventor of the Positron Emission Tomography machine, at UCLA. Dr. Phelps explained that he could immediately give us a scan that would help determine if surgery was the right course of treatment.
Although you always hope these types of scans deliver good news, this one did not. The scan, administered and read by Dr. Johannes Czernin and another technician, showed the cancer had spread throughout his liver, spleen, and lungs. It was obvious from the PET scan that the cancer was too dominant throughout his body for surgery. This saved us from what would have been a painful, risky and ultimately useless surgery.
With the options narrowed, Cliff chose another fine UCLA doctor and started chemotherapy. What followed was a wonderful winter with Cliff receiving treatment while at the same time living in the warmth of Palm Desert and enjoying the visits of many friends. It was much better than recovering from a surgery or possibly not surviving surgery!
When spring came and the weather was again warm in Alaska, we returned home. He enjoyed being home and he was still upbeat, but the cancer was winning. It became obvious that our time had run out. He again accepted this and said that he was grateful he had been able to have nine more, relatively normal, months than he would have had if it were not for the UCLA team.
Unfortunately, while back in Anchorage, we discovered I had colon cancer. I had the operation in Anchorage to remove the section shown in a barium x-ray. I was back home from the hospital quickly and able to resume the active care of my husband. He passed away peacefully that summer, at home with hospice and his loving family.
Before he died, my husband told me to have a PET scan because he just didn’t feel comfortable with the quickness of my colon cancer surgery and recovery. That winter, I made the trip to UCLA and took a PET scan, administered by Dr. Czernin. He immediately showed me that there was more cancer in my colon. Thus, I had to endure two colon resections within a six month period because I did not have a PET scan before the first surgery!
For the next six years I had an annual PET scan at UCLA, each with GREAT results. No cancers.
In 2004, just before I had planned to go to UCLA for my annual test, I had my annual mammogram in Anchorage, which showed that I had cancer in my right breast. Once again, in Anchorage, I immediately went into surgery for the mastectomy and was told they had also removed one main lymph node and that the node had tested negative for cancer so they felt they had removed it all.
I decided that I did not need a PET scan that year as I was recuperating from the mastectomy. I didn’t schedule one until 14 months later. At that scan, Dr. Czernin had to inform me that there was cancer in the lymph nodes. He also told me that it had been caught in time and that he thought that I could get through it.
I fought that cancer aggressively with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. I have returned to the UCLA PET scan facilities every year faithfully ever since and every year I have gotten a clean bill of health.
Of the four bouts of cancer I have experienced and conquered, the PET scan has found two of them. I will continue to seek their services each year as long as I live. I have extreme faith in their ability to see every dangerous threat to my body. Dr. Michael Phelps, Dr. Johannes Czernin and all the caring, faithful co-workers with the department have earned my undying faith, trust and gratitude.
– Lucy Woodruff Groh, Anchorage, Alaska.