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Cancer care with compassion

Cancer Care patient Reuben Paris

For months, Reuben Paris of Everson struggled with symptoms that he initially thought were a normal part of life and aging. But his aches and pains worsened and eventually kept him from normal daily tasks and body functions. Sitting and walking were very challenging things for him to continue to do. “I would just crawl on the carpet in pain,” said Paris. “I had to wear diapers, it was embarrassing. The level of pain was incredible, it was like a seven-layer pain; my skin was so sensitive.”

He decided to investigate and Paris went in for a biopsy in February 2022. By the time he made it to the clinic, he had already canceled twice before – he was scared.

“I had to take my fear, being scared and the possibilities and put it on the top shelf and leave them there and walk through the process and trust that these people will take care of me,” said Paris of how he mustered the courage to finally make his biopsy appointment. “And, they did. They did an amazing job.”

Paris recalls waiting for his biopsy and five minutes after arriving, he was about to walk out, he was too scared. One of his nurses took notice and sat and talked with him to reassure him. Paris said this was just the start of the level of compassionate care he received throughout the course of his treatment.

“The scariest part of cancer and cancer care is the unknown,” said  John Register, MD, Radiation Oncologist and Paris’s provider through his diagnosis and treatment. “I try to make sure patients know that they will not be fighting alone … that they will be supported by an extensive team. We discuss their cancer, prognosis, goals of radiation treatment and expectations for treatment logistics and potential side effects they may encounter…and emphasize that we will get him through it and that he will feel better after healing up from treatment.”

The biopsy identified cancer. Paris was diagnosed with Stage IIIB anal squamous cell carcinoma. He was given a challenging prognosis with a 24% five-year survival chance. However, Paris would soon find hope in the people of the Skagit Regional Health Cancer Care Center.

“I remember my first day of radiation when I walked in and I’m crying. The woman at the desk looks at me in the eye and she asked me what was the matter. I said, ‘I’ve never been through this before. I’m kind of scared.’ She looked me in the eye and touched my hand and said ‘It’s OK, we’re going to take care of you.’” Paris reflected further, “I remember how true those words were. My heart is full of gratitude for those people and always will be.”

Paris found hope in more ways than one.

“As Reuben began treatment he had significant pain and fear,” said Dr. Register. “As he progressed through the treatment course, he became more comfortable, more confident and felt more in control of his situation. He would come in for treatments singing, joking and eventually dancing.”

Skagit Regional Health has a robust team of people ensuring that each cancer patient has what they need – because cancer treatment is a unique journey for each patient.

“We approach cancer care with a multi-disciplinary team: Physicians, nurses, navigators, social workers, pharmacists, radiation therapists, dosimetrists and physicists, front office and support staff,” said Jennifer Leseberg, Radiation Therapist Lead. “With the assistance of (his care team), we were able to help coordinate his schedules along with an outside infusion pump provider, to streamline his appointments. We were also here to emotionally support him through a difficult diagnosis and treatment.”

Reuben ringing the bell

On June 15, 2022, Paris finished radiation and he is healing. He can now sit, drive and walk – three tasks that were impossible just six months prior. On August 5, he had a scan which suggested decreased tumor size and his care team will continue to monitor his progress with additional imaging.

Looking back, Paris knows the science and medicine were key to his positive results, but what will stick with him forever are the people of Skagit Regional Health who cared for him and the impact they made on his perspective through all of this.

“When he had his most recent follow-up, he said, I have my heart and there are a bunch of little hearts attached and those hearts are us,” said Molly Brown, Diagnostic Scheduler for Medical Oncology.

“I’m so glad I have that team, I’m grateful that they literally held my hand and walked me through the process,” said Paris. “They told me the truth about everything. Roma in Radiation Oncology – she sat down with me and explained how to minimize side effects. She gave me a hug and said ‘It’s going to be OK.’”

The level of care he received in a smaller community was also a pleasant surprise to him.

“The people were very professional, attentive; very thorough with all the testing they do to make sure they figure out exactly what is wrong,” said Paris. “Other hospitals do that, but (Skagit Regional Health goes) that extra mile – that first hospitalization, I could have sworn I saw 20 doctors. It makes you feel like, OK, these people really want to help. And the food was incredible! I tell my friends that if I have 32 minutes to live and it takes me 28 to get to Skagit Valley Hospital, that’s where I’m going!”

Leseberg said that Paris’s strong desire to beat his cancer and the daily support he received from staff is what kept him going.

“Reuben was an amazing patient; he dedicated himself to following all provided medical advice,” said Leseberg. “By the time his treatments were completed, he was pain free and in better spirits than when he arrived.” “Reuben bravely progressed through his treatment course with dignity, humility and a fabulous sense of humor, which touched all of our lives,” said Dr. Register.

And, looking ahead, he has developed a renewed perspective on life. “I always lived in the past or in the future,” said Paris. “This was a transformation. I’m here, I’m alive, I’m breathing. This brought me back to life and made me present. I see the silver lining.”