Hit, Run, and “Hope”
In recognition of Colon Cancer Awareness Month, we are honored to share the following words from Janina West, wife of the late Jeff West, who was a patient at Ozarks Healthcare Cancer Treatment Center for several years, until his passing in 2015. He had a special love for his community, family, and the game of baseball. Stronger than any of these loves, was his dedication to never giving up hope.
Jeff West was out and about enjoying a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game, one of his most favorite pastimes, when he began to feel a sudden onset of pain. Shortly afterwards, he and his wife, Janina, would learn their lives would be changed forever by the six letters no one wants to hear: cancer.
After rushing to meet Jeff in Springfield, Missouri, Janina met her husband in an emergency department, thinking his pain may have been related to stress, something he ate, or even his gallbladder. A cat scan quickly revealed that it was cancer that was causing Jeff’s pain.
“It was in his liver, lymph nodes, and colon,” Janina said. “He was two weeks away from being 39 years old. Cancer was the furthest thing from our minds.”
After meeting with an oncologist in Springfield, it was determined Jeff had colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the U.S. Without Janina or Jeff asking, Jeff was told he could have three months or three years to live. While the shock they felt was immeasurable, Jeff and Janina knew the only thing that made sense at the time was one place: home.
“We were going through the motions,” Janina said. “We knew West Plains (home) was where we wanted to be.”
After arriving home, a neighbor who knew Dr. Charles Morgan, oncologist at Ozarks Healthcare’s Cancer Treatment Center, called Dr. Morgan to ask about Jeff’s diagnosis out of concern. Even though it was a Saturday, Dr. Morgan was ready to meet Jeff and Janina right away.
“He told our neighbor to tell us, ‘Meet me,’” Janina said. “We just had questions. Dr. Morgan really took his time to explain everything to us and told us what steps we needed to take and how serious Jeff’s condition was.”
Together, Dr. Morgan, Jeff, and Janina decided it would be beneficial for Jeff to travel to M.D. Anderson in Houston, Texas, to be a part of a clinical trial treatment study. Having had a family member receive treatment there earlier, Janina and Jeff were excited to have Dr. Morgan’s support and the resources of Ozarks Healthcare’s Cancer Treatment Center on hand.
“We already knew Dr. Morgan worked well with M.D. Anderson,” Janina said. “Dr. Morgan and Jeff’s doctor would talk while we were in a room together at MD Anderson. It was comforting and reassuring to know you had two exceptional physicians who were working on your care.”
Jeff received his primary cancer care and treatments at Ozarks Healthcare’s Cancer Treatment Center. The care he received from Dr. Morgan, Susan (Susie) Kenslow, Nurse Practitioner at Ozarks Healthcare’s Cancer Treatment Center, and his nurses turned into a special bond with the staff and patients of Ozarks Healthcare.
“You walk in, and you know you’re not a number; you’re a person,” Janina said. “You become so close to these people you see every three weeks. We preferred to do our treatments here because if something went wrong in the night, we knew the hospital could call Susie or Dr. Morgan. They were our family.”
From meeting Janina on weekends to help train her how to change Jeff’s pump to calling after business hours to check on him, the Ozarks Healthcare Cancer Treatment Center showed extra care when it was needed most. It was not uncommon for Jeff to want to return his thanks with homemade gifts at treatments.
“Before we would go into treatments, Jeff would sometimes ask me to make a batch of cookies or bread to deliver to the staff,” Janina said. “He always wanted them to know how thankful he was for the care he received from each treatment. Anytime we walked out the Cancer Treatment Center’s doors, he would thank each of the staff there.”
One year, the staff returned his thanks with the surprise of a lifetime for Jeff: throwing the first pitch at a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game.
“Dr. Morgan and Susie asked me about wanting to do something special for Jeff,” Janina said. “Even though we knew Jeff was still fighting cancer, he was surviving and still had good quality of life. They asked me if they could arrange this surprise trip and first pitch for him. A couple weeks before the game, they presented Jeff and I with special jerseys to wear to the game. It was pretty special.”
Some of the Cancer Treatment Center staff and Jeff’s family were able to attend the game to watch him throw the pitch. The day became a special memory for everyone involved, but especially for Jeff.
“As we were driving home from that game, Jeff said, ‘Janina, this is the best day I’ve ever had besides meeting you,’” Janina said. “I will forever be grateful to Ozarks Healthcare because they made a hard time a special time.”
Jeff’s colon cancer fight lasted for just over five years. The severity of the disease took his life in July of 2015.
While Jeff’s cancer was very rare considering his age, the majority of colon cancer cases are treatable when detected in early stages through screening tests such as colonoscopies. Coverage for preventative screening for colorectal cancer is required by the Affordable Care Act. Current guidelines from the American Cancer Society suggest that patients over the age of 45 with an average risk for developing colon cancer should begin screening for the disease.
For Jeff and others who have lost their lives due to colon cancer, Janina encourages everyone to protect their colon health and lives with a simple screening, starting as early as possible, even if there are no signs of cancer or potential issues.
“Jeff didn’t have any symptoms before his diagnosis,” Janina said. “He worked out every morning and ate very healthy. Before he was diagnosed, I noticed he started losing a little weight, but we thought that was due to him working out. Cancer doesn’t care how old you are, where you live, or what you do. I encourage anybody – even if they don’t have any cancer history in their family – to get a colonoscopy. It can save your life.”
If you ask Janina what she would most want someone to learn from Jeff’s story, it’s to never give up hope.
“When we left Springfield after Jeff was diagnosed and had been told how much time he might have left, he looked over in the car and told me, ‘Nobody should ever take your hope away.’ That’s what I live by. As long as you can fight, it’s a fight worth fighting.”
Ozarks Healthcare is a system of care encompassing eight primary care and 17 specialty clinics, along with complete rehabilitation, behavioral healthcare, and home health services. While the 114-bed acute care hospital cares for more than 5,400 admissions, the entire health system has more than 364,000 patient visits annually in South Central Missouri and Northern Arkansas. For more information about Ozarks Healthcare, visit www.OzarksHealthcare.com.
Top: The Ozarks Healthcare Cancer Treatment Center provided Jeff a special jersey to wear as he threw the first pitch at a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game.
Bottom left: Susie Kenslow, Nurse Practitioner, Janina West, Jeff's wife, and Dr. Charles Morgan, Jeff's oncologist at Ozarks Healthcare's Cancer Treatment Center
Janina West, wife of the late Jeff West
Jeff's "prescription" to attend a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game