WEBSTER COUNTY, Ky. (4/17/13) - Webster County Relay for Life will be hosting its 2013 event on Friday May 30, at Trojan Field in Dixon.
As we prepare for the event, The Journal-Enterprise would like to take an opportunity to honor a few Webster County residents who have won their battle with cancer. Their stories are all different, but each one is an inspiration.
Getting tested saved the life of Webster County resident George Utley not once, but twice. That is the biggest thing that he wishes to stress to everyone he meets.
“If there is something you think wrong with you, you need to get checked,” he said. “Even if it isn’t cancer, you need to know what it is.”
Utley’s journey started on Labor Day of 2008. As the day progressed he started noticing that his wife and daughter’s voices sounded funny. “Like they were in a pickle barrel,” he said.
Thinking that he was getting an ear infection, Utley purchased some over the counter medicine and started treating himself. When that didn’t work he went to his family doctor, who put him on antibiotics.
By the middle of October his condition had not improved, and he was put on a stronger antibiotic. When no change had occurred by the week of Thanksgiving, he was referred to an ear, nose and throat doctor who ordered an MRI the day after Christmas.
“I was told I had suffered 80-90% hearing loss due to nerve damage,” Utley said. “They couldn’t do anything about that, but they had to find out what had caused it. Doctors thought I’d either had a stroke or a growth.”
The doctor’s office called Utley at home and told him that they had found a mass in his brain. He remembers that his wife had ‘gone ballistic’, but he wasn’t worried.
“I thought, it was no big deal,” he said. “I had a friend who had experienced some ear problems. Doctors removed a tumor from behind his ear and he was fine.”
Utley went to see Dr. Mark Cobb, a neurosurgeon at St. Mary’s in Evansville. He said he had been cutting up and joking all morning. When the doctor came in he said he was looking out the window at people going in and out of the entrance to the hospital. He made a joke about something he saw.
“Your problem is that you have a good sized tumor and there are only five people I know of who can operate on you and get you off the table,” Dr. Cobb told him. “Even then, it’s not going to be a walk in the park.”
Utley was told that he had Hemangiopericytoma, a type of aggressive soft tissue tumor that originates in the walls of blood vessels. Left untreated, Dr. Cobb told him, it would eventually take over all of his bodily functions and kill him.
He was sent to Little Rock, AR to meet with Dr. Ossama “Sam” Al-Mefty, a neurosurgeon who now heads the medical department at Harvard.
“He is the best,” Utley said. “You can check his credentials, they’ll say that.”
Dr. Al-Mefty scheduled him for surgery on April 2, 2009. By then Utley had began to experience dizziness and a loss of balance, symptoms that doctors were surprised had not surface sooner.
After 12 hours in the operating room, Dr. Al-Mefty had gotten everything it was possible to get. The cancer had grown to his brain stem, and there were traces of it that simply could not be removed. The vein where the cancer had started was capped in hopes of preventing it from growing again.
Doctors also told him that if he had waited another six months, he wouldn’t have been able to be operated on at all.
Utley underwent 30 radiation treatments at OHS in Evansville. Following the treatments the cancer was smaller, which was good; three months after that it had shrank further, which was rare; and six months after treatment it had gotten even smaller, which was unheard of.
He then started returning to OHS every six months for checkups.
“I know why they do it, but it seemed like I was always going back to get tested,” Utley said. “Every six months like clockwork.”
In February of 2012 he went to his regular testing. He said he was tired of all the testing, and told his wife that when he went back to get the results he was going to talk to the doctor about extending the time between checkups.
Before he got home they called for him to come back to the hospital. The MRI had shown that a clot caused by the capped blood vessel had come lose and was near his heart. He was rushed into surgery. Doctors needed to get the clot before it could kill him
When George Utley came out of surgery he learned a different story.
“It wasn’t a clot,” he said. “It was an extension of the original tumor. It had spread to two chambers of my heart. I had no idea. I had felt great. No problem. Doctors went back and looked at all of my old tests, and they showed nothing.”
The new growth was nine and a half inches long, but doctors were able to pull it out and avoid cutting into his heart. While they were operating they capped the same blood vessel at the other end, and Utley said they will eventually try to remove it all together.
“If you have any form of cancer, you need to continue your treatments,” he said. “Why put yourself through the operation if you’re not going to go back for the treatments?”
He now goes for his checkups every eight weeks without complaint.
“When people ask me how I am, I tell them I’m not in the obituary yet, so I’m okay,” he joked. “It will probably get me some day, but I’ve got enough people worrying about me, so I don’t need to.”
J-E News Editor
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