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by Emily Johnson, student writer

 

Wilson is so happy to be back at work serving his country. To the casual observer, he looks like a poster board Airman. Look more closely, and for 10 years he has been battling Melanoma, the most serious of all types of skin cancer.

Wilson, like millions of other cancer patients, has undergone countless treatments and surgeries over the past 10 years. He has had his share of ups and downs, but overall, he said, he is “happy to be alive.”

Many people know someone who has been affected by cancer, be it a relative, friend, or an acquaintance. But how many know what it is like to go through the treatment? How many know how it affects the patient not only on a physical level but a spiritual or psychological level? How many know what it is like to watch a loved one go through the treatment? How many know what it is like to treat these patients on a daily basis?

Dr. Patricia Nishimoto has been an oncologist at Tripler Army Medical Center for 10 years. A retired colonel in the United States Army, Nishimoto has encountered hundreds of patients with all types of cancers. “The first thing I do to a newly diagnosed patient is sit down with them, one on one, and answer any questions they or their family have,” Nishimoto said.

When she talks about treatment, Nishimoto stresses the importance of proper nutrition, exercise, and attendance of support groups such as the ones Tripler provides for patients and their families.
Chemotherapy is a major part in the treatment of cancer. Tripler’s chemotherapy room treats 75 patients on average per week. “Our chemo room is like a coffee shop with IVs,” Nishimoto said in an uplifting voice. Patients sit in lazyboy recliners, eat candy, read the paper, watch TV, and talk with one another about their ups and downs. Nishimoto hopes that this interaction makes her patients feel as if they are not the only ones in this horrible situation. “We are a family,” Nishimoto said.

Tripler offers various programs and support groups for patients and family members who are dealing with cancer. Wilson’s wife Tammy attends meetings for the spouses of cancer patients. “We meet once a week,” she said, “and talk about our spouse’s progress, our own feelings, and most importantly pray together. This is the hardest thing I have ever gone through, but it helps to talk with people who can relate to my fears and emotions.”

John Antonik, 24, an Army specialist, discovered a lump in his neck while deployed to Iraq. He was flown back to Hawai‘i, where he is stationed, and shortly after his return was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, stage two. Currently in his fourth week of chemotherapy, the young soldier has a hopeful outlook.

“ I am just trying to get through the treatment and be cured,” Antonik said. Like others, when getting the news of cancer, he was shocked but has turned to his faith in God to get him through it.
Cancer treatments have numerous side affects ranging from hair loss to nausea, Nishimoto said. Constantly dealing with these symptoms is not only a reminder of the disease but can take a toll of a person spirit. Wilson used to love being outdoors, but now he must limit his exposure to sunlight. His life in Hawai‘i has been “put on hold,” he said, and he can no longer enjoy his favorite sports, surfing and golf, for fear that doing so will worsen his condition.

“ I am not scared of death,” Wilson said, “but when I am gone, I want my family to be OK.” Faced with what could be his final days, he spends as much time with his wife and daughter as his schedule allows.

One in three men and one in four women in America will be affected by cancer in the first 75 years of their life, the American Cancer Society predicts. Cancer research continues throughout the world and patients in hundreds of clinical trials test new drugs.

Nishimoto, along with many other oncologists, is hopeful that one day there will be a cure for cancer. “Until that day it is my job to do everything in my power to be there for my patients as their doctor and friend,” Nishimoto said.

 
 

 

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