Archive for Wednesday, August 8, 2001

Young family copes with diagnosis, effects of cancer

August 8, 2001

When Mike Covey left for work on the morning of May 9, he had no way of knowing that by evening he'd be diagnosed with testicular cancer.

For about six months, Covey, who is 24, had noticed a slight swelling of his left testicle.

An active man who rides dirt bikes and skateboards with his 7-year-old son, Dalton, Covey thought that if anything, maybe the swelling had been trauma-induced.

His fianc Holly Garrison, urged him to seek a physician's advice.

But until May 9 when he was struck with excruciating pain as he was preparing to paint a house, Covey had pretty much put it out of his mind.

In the emergency room of Providence Medical Center, a physician at first thought the pain might be from a twisted testicle. But after a sonogram, Mike Covey came home that night with a diagnosis that would make any man shudder.

Hurdles

To make matters worse, Mike and Holly, who have been in a relationship for 10 years and who planned to get married this September, had no health insurance.

Ironically, Mike had been in the process of working with his boss at Millennium Painting, Olathe, to acquire health insurance.

But because the family had not yet obtained medical coverage, they had difficulty finding a urologist who would accept Mike as a patient.

Finally, Holly, who is a stay-at-home mother, called a physicians' network and was referred to Dr. J.B. Thrasher, head of the urology department at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, Kan.

On May 15, Thrasher met them in his office at KUMC.

"He left the room with our films and records and came back five minutes later, asking if we'd be ready for surgery by six o'clock the next morning," Holly said.

It wasn't good news. The cancer-riddled left testicle was surgically removed through a four-inch incision on Mike's lower abdomen, but two weeks later Mike and Holly learned that the carcinoma had metastasized to lymph nodes in his lower back.

Making ends meet

The next step was chemotherapy, which started on June 4 and is expected to continue through August.

As they speak, Holly brings a calendar to the kitchen table, a calendar in which she has jotted names of physicians and of chemotherapy drugs she'd never heard of until this summer's unexpected crash course in carcinoma.

She also had not expected the financial difficulties.

Soon after Mike's diagnosis, Holly decided to look for a full-time job. But Mike's physicians recommended against it, saying that Mike would need to have her with him now more than ever.

And so, with neither one of them working, the bills, both for medical care and for day-to-day living, mount.

To make a down payment at KUMC before Mike's surgery, Holly wrote out a check for $525. Otherwise, she said the money would have gone to the owner of their Basehor duplex.

In July, their parents and friends gathered funds to make a payment on their July rent.

"We still haven't paid our June rent," Holly said. "And now it's August and this month's rent is due."

Immediately after the surgery, Holly contacted utility companies, explaining their dilemma and asking for patience in making payments. In July their phone service was cut off. The family's water and electricity are scheduled to be cut off this week, Holly said.

So far, the family has received assistance from various agencies, such as the Good Shepherd Thrift Shop and Food Bank in Tonganoxie. Friends have set up donation boxes at various area businesses. Also, a "Mike Covey" fund has been set up at First State Bank and Trust.

And the family is trying to help themselves. On his good days, Mike has been trying to go back to work. In mid-July, he worked three days.

Ups and downs

"I've got bad days and good days," Mike said. "Today is one of my good days I feel OK. Last week I stayed in bed all week, I was tired, I didn't feel good."

Mike wouldn't wish this experience on anyone.

"Chemotherapy destroys all the blood cells, it can't determine which ones are good or bad," he said.

In his case, it's knocked out his white blood cells, so he's been taking Neupogen, a drug that increases the production of white blood cells in the bone marrow. And the drug's side effects have been painful.

"Within 24 hours of the first shot, his knees hurt and he could barely walk," Holly said.

The pain moves around, Mike said.

"At first I had immediate aches in my joints," Mike said. "Now it's started moving up into my head."

For now, the Covey's aren't so worried about the high cost of the drugs, hospitalization and chemotherapy.

The hospital hasn't pushed the issue of payment, Holly said.

"They're being patient," she said.

Yet she realizes costs are escalating.

"It was $25,000 for the first week of chemo," Holly said. "Then there are 12 more weeks of chemo and each week costs $25,000."

The surgery's cost was low in comparison.

"The first surgery ended up costing $4,500," Holly said.

The family is applying for financial assistance to help take care of medical bills, she added.

Not alone

This year in the United States, about 7,200 males will be diagnosed with testicular cancer. Testicular cancer does not seem to run in families and no one else in Mike's family had been diagnosed with it.

However, Mike said, his father died from skin cancer when in his early 30s, an uncle died two years ago from lung cancer, another uncle has been treated for prostate cancer and a grandmother is currently going through treatment for cancer of the kidney.

Even so, Mike and Holly exhibit a positive attitude.

Mike flexes his biceps, and says why he's going to make it: "It's because I'm unbeatable."

Setback

But last week, the Coveys learned that a CT scan showed that the metastasized cells in the lymph nodes in his lower back had not shrunk during the chemotherapy. They will have to be surgically removed.

"It's a benign tumor now, but it's still made up of the same cells that the malignant tumor was made of, even though the chemo has killed them," Holly said. "They want to remove it because it's still made up of the same cells that caused the malignancy in the first place."

The surgery date has not been set, but Holly anticipates that it will be in September, after Mike completes chemotherapy.

It's all a part of the waiting game, the crash course in cancer, the struggle of paying bills, Mike's side effects from chemotherapy the migraine headaches, the nausea, the aching from his toes to his head the way family life has become focused on a fight for survival.

This is not what they expected, Holly said:

"We never dreamed anything like this would ever happen."

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