George Byars knew the rules of good health care and maintenance. When you are in your fifties, you should begin the basic screenings for colon cancer. This meant routine check-ups, colonoscopies and such. George had always been reasonably healthy, but as he crept into middle age, fate began to intervene.
The first serious health condition that George experienced was a heart attack, that hazard of middle age. The attack required surgery with four bypasses. No sooner was he recovered from that than illness struck again. This new condition was a detached retina, which is a very serious condition indeed. George underwent three operations until he was finally stable and his eyesight was preserved.
It would have seemed that his health problems had ended, at least for a while. They had not. The next stop on his medical chart was the carotid artery. George’s was in poor condition, so surgery was required to correct this condition.
Some time had passed since George’s health issues had begun, and he knew that it was now time to pursue routine health screening. Therefore he began his first colon work-up. To his dismay, he was told that he had a stage III tumor and that immediate surgery was required. George did not have any classic symptoms at this point, but his father had also had colon cancer.
In January of 2006, George underwent surgery. His surgery was done at North East Baptist in San Antonio, and he was under the care of physician David Cohen. He had been told that he would be able to leave the hospital in 5 – 6 days, but instead his stay lasted 14 days. Following a surgery such as George’s, the colon must be “woken up.” His surgery was so extensive that this process took much longer than had been expected. He also developed a blood clot in his lung.
Following his surgery, George followed a chemotherapy program of 8 treatments for 4 months. His condition seemed to progress rather well during the first several months. The doctors even felt that the treatments might just be “precautionary”. Blood antigen level tests were administered repeatedly, but 6-8 months after the surgery his antigen levels began rising. This meant a return to the chemotherapy and a recurrence of cancer. It was then decided that the condition was stage IV, not stage III.
The colon cancer had spread to his lungs. It was not lung cancer, but colon cancer in the lungs. The chemotherapy seemed to contain further spreading.
To date, George has had 25 chemotherapy treatments! They are given every other week. He has had just one 6-8 week rest from this regimen since resuming the treatments a year ago.
When one thinks of cancer treatments he/she immediately thinks of painful side effects. George is a very tough and tenacious individual. He did not speak of any side effects until asked. When asked, he did say that the first drug that was administered caused “as bad of a reaction as you can have….everything went red and burning hot.” A second medication was then tried which did not work at all. The third medication was also very harsh but it was the best of the three. The effects are redness, dry and cracking skin with bleeding. The FDA released it early in testing because it showed so much promise.
George says that life after being diagnosed with cancer has been a roller coaster of emotions. You really do learn to look at the things that are truly important and that matter the most. Family would be at the top of his list. None of us know how much time we have left, but cancer survivors probably do have a little better sense of their own mortality and destiny.
The message that George Byars would like for anyone who reads this article to receive is simply this: “Follow all recommended age appropriate cancer screenings. Don’t wait until it’s too late like I did.”
Blanco County Relay for Life will hold its 4th annual event April 19th – 20th in Johnson City, TX.
For additional information regarding Blanco County Relay for Life you may visit our website at http://events.cancer,org/rflblancocountytx. Or you may contact Event Chairs Kasi Baker @ 210- 4159591, Lyndi Lorenz @ 830-330-0760, Teams Peggy Berryhill @ 833-5851, Survivorship Tricia Hartmann @ 833-1431, Lumanaries Laura Jenschkle @ 512-971-909, Silent Auction Peggy Wallace at 833-5335, and Sponsorship Gayla Gutherie @ 512-567-0377.