Kent Cartwright the wood carver also is a survivor of prostate cancer.
His disease was discovered during a routine physical. Blood tests indicated a problem, and a biopsy confirmed prostate cancer. After surgery at Ohio State University James Cancer Center in Columbus, he and his wife Lynne have made many lifestyle changes.
"For some reason, before any of this happened, my wife purchased a cancer policy," Kent said.
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
Kent Cartwright and his wife Lynne are pictured with two of Kent’s chip carvings.
"The janitor at school said to me, 'Lynne, you can afford this ($25 a month). You really ought to look into it.'" Lynne said.
Because her parents and his parents had cancer, she decided it would be worth having, so Lynne enrolled herself and Kent in 2004 or 2005. The premiums automatically came out of her check.
In 2007, Kent was diagnosed. The policy pays out-of-pocket expenses, such as mileage and hotel fees.
"The basic treatment for prostate cancer is to remove all the testosterone in your body, because it (the cancer) feeds on testosterone," Kent said.
Instead of traditional surgery, Kent chose to have a robotically-assisted surgery called the DaVinci method. The procedure employs laparoscopic tools connected to a machine operated by the doctor. It has a three-dimensional display for superior precision.
Kent said he spent only 23 1/2 hours in the hospital. Other treatments for prostate cancer include radiation and seed injections.
One of the nurses in Columbus told Cartwright about the chapter of "Us, TOO," a support group for prostate cancer patients and their families. They have been trying to make the monthly meetings of that group in Columbus, occasionally driving to other communities for Us, TOO speakers and programs.
Kent estimates he and Lynne have made more than 80 trips to Columbus. Because Kent tires easily, Lynne accompanies him as often as she is able.
"Unfortunately, the hotel knows us. ... we sort of have our own room," Lynne said.
"We're partners in this process, so she's pretty up on reading, and she does ask some very good questions that I wouldn't even think of," Kent said. "One thing she has been an advocate for is healthier eating."
Although they always had been careful about their diet, Lynne has eliminated nearly all meat and dairy. Their main food sources are fruits, vegetables, soy and other legumes. Kent said she has obtained many new recipes to try. They also have adopted some holistic health practices.
At first, he resisted the changes.
"Then one night, we watched a film on TV together, called 'Forks Over Knives.' It's a documentary by a couple doctors that came to the same conclusion, independently of each other, that our diet is killing us," Kent said. "They presented some very compelling evidence in this video. So I said, 'OK. Let's try it.'"
Lynne described the Standard American Diet.
"He came around overnight," Lynne said. "It makes shopping really easy. I hit the produce section, maybe the pasta ... and the organic section."
About a year ago, after Kent's usual monthly screenings, his PSA numbers were not as low as his doctors wanted them, so they asked him to return to the clinic the following day.
"That really took the wind out of my sails that day ... So we got a hotel room early in the evening. I said, 'Let's go see a movie,'" Kent said.
So they went to the cinema and tried to pick a comedy. About 10 minutes into the film, they discovered it was about two men with cancer trying to accomplish the things they wanted to do before they died - "The Bucket List."
It was an appropriate coincidence that made Lynne cry.
"Now he talks about his bucket list as an excuse for getting things," Lynne said.
The additional tests showed Kent's cancer had returned and settled into his spine. His doctors gave him epidural injections to ease the pain and started him on a special immunotherapy called Provenge. His own white blood cells are withdrawn and sent to a lab where they are infused with cancer-fighting chemicals. The cells are returned to the patient as a kind of "vaccine" that circulates though his body and targets the cancer cells. Initially, the process only could be done in one laboratory. A few others are available now to handle more patients.
"It was only approved in 2010, and I was very fortunate to be in the program in 2011," Kent said.
The method also is being expanded, with some success, to treat other kinds of cancers in addition to prostate cancer. The average cost of each treatment is about $95,000, and a series of three bags of blood are needed.
Now, Kent's markers are low, but his spine is still giving him difficulties with intense tingling. The medication helps him tolerate the pain and allows him to work.
"We have a regular visit every four weeks so that I can get my blood checked and make sure the liver and kidneys and all that stuff are still working fine. Once that gets approved, I get an infusion of chemicals every month," Kent said.
The Cartwrights attend Grace Community Church in Fremont. They have turned over their lives to God and say they believe everything that happens is part of a larger plan.
Still, the cancer's recurrence was a hard blow.
"He's had health issues all his life, but they've been fixed. You go to the doctor, they fix you and life goes on and you take it for granted. This time, it wasn't fixed," Lynne said.
Last February, their pastor had spoken about God being in control and for believers to turn over their challenges to their higher power. After that sermon, Lynne was wondering about becoming a widow before she turned 60. She and Kent had an emotional discussion in which they agreed to accept God's plan and stop trying to control things. Habits and thought patterns sometimes must be changed.
"Sometimes, all you can do is laugh, because if you don't, you'll cry," Lynne said.
"The big thing was, when I found out the cancer wasn't gone ... I really surrendered the whole thing to him," Kent said. "I don't worry at all."
Lynne said her husband's ordeal has strengthened their marriage and resulted in close friendships. She has a mentor who has advised her to live for the present and put aside worries about the past and future. The Cartwrights were in a support group at their church with two younger friends who died from cancer. Kent said the young woman "died a gracious death" by helping others through their pain.
In addition, Kent was on the prayer list at Grace and at a few others.
"Prayer is important. ... It's a very comforting thing." Kent said.