But for the second time in his career, he saw two married couples, living and fighting the same illness side-by-side.
“It’s virtually unheard of, and I’ve seen it twice,” says the associate professor of medicine, adding that such was the case originally for him with Cheryl and George Edmonds.
That is also 76-year-old Patricia Lenox’s life since May 2014, when she and her husband John went to the UC Health Barrett Cancer Center, the main care facility of the UC Cancer Institute, for an appointment following John’s surgery for pancreatic cancer.
“We were there to discuss his chemotherapy plan, and I hadn’t been feeling great, so I was going to be getting some scans that day as well,” she says. “They found a large mass in my pancreas that had spread. I was Stage IV.”
With the diagnosis, Patricia was ordered to begin chemotherapy as well. She and John started treatment on the same day—May 21, 2014. “While it was scary, at least we had each other,” she said.
Unfortunately, in July 2014, John died due to complications from the surgery.
“I was ready to give up,” she says. “I was thinking, ‘Why go on? I already have Stage IV cancer, and now John is gone.’”
But Olowokure wouldn’t let her.
“He called when he found out about John and told me he’d be at my house as soon as his clinic ended,” she says. “He talked to my son and me and finished by saying a prayer with us. He’s such a special person, and so with his nudging and compassion, I decided to continue my fight.”
“If you think about it, this is likely to be one of the most challenging scenarios one can deal with,” says Olowokure. “It is bad enough to be diagnosed with the most deadly solid tumor malignancy, as stage for stage it has the worst prognosis compared to any other solid tumor malignancy, but then to learn that you and your soulmate are getting the same diagnosis following CT scans obtained on the same day, as in the case of the Edmondses, or two months apart, as in the case of Dr. and Ms. Lenox, is devastating. The emotional trauma associated with trying to prepare yourself mentally, spiritually and emotionally to fight your fight, knowing you also have to be extremely strong to help your partner in their own fight also, is scary beyond words.
“The close interval surrounding the diagnosis in these couples also brings to light a consideration to further look into environmental etiology concerns in this deadly cancer.”
Thankfully, a year and a half after her diagnosis and after switching chemotherapy regimens, Lenox is still fighting. She lives independently and gets along well with help from her family.
“I receive my treatment over 48 hours with a pump,” she says. “I feel bad for about four days afterward, but then I always bounce back.”
Patricia is looking forward to spending another holiday with her wonderful family—her daughter Rebecca Lenox, who lives in Portland, Oregon, with her spouse and children, and her sons Richard Lenox, who lives in Lubbock, Texas, and John Scott Lenox, who lives in Atlanta, with their spouses and children—and is grateful for the encouragement she receives from her care team.
“I’m just so thankful for Dr. Benga and all of the wonderful staff at the Barrett,” she says. “They’re all so thoughtful and kind—I couldn’t ask for a better team.
“I encourage others like me to not give up hope.”
Media Contact: Katie Pence, 513-558-4561