|C. Wallace Weeks, a.k.a. "Wally" is a man who needs no introduction. One need only be near the congenial chap to feel the energy he fairly exudes. Somewhat like the Energizer Rabbit gone nuclear, Wally has always pursued his goals with dogged determination. Back in high school, he was lionized by his teammates and adversaries alike; both on and off the playing fields. His scholarly achievements landed him a coveted niche at Providence College. Always looking to expand his educational horizons, Wally advises me "When in doubt, look about". Solutions are out there. Besides the smile that can light up a room, Wally has a formidable game face that you'd best take seriously. Although the winning smile is his usual demeanor, he can display either with lightning speed!|
A successful businessman and entrepreneur, Wally and his wife Christine have raised a wonderful family. Three children, Kerry, Kim, and Brian all followed Longmeadow High School with Ivy League college degrees and award-winning athletic accomplishments. Christine had graduated second in her class at Boston College, was on staff at Heritage Academy, and was a top-flight tennis player. They are all winners by virtue of their own energy and initiative. As they say, "mens sana, corpora sana". sound mind, sound body. What could possibly go wrong in this picture-perfect scenario? Try everything.
Three years ago, Christine succumbed to ovarian cancer after a fierce and protracted 18-month battle. Barely in her middle years, she was "called safely home"; to use one of the saccharine euphemisms that have crept into the verbiage of today's obituaries. In her final weeks, Christine crystallized a new purpose and mission, which she engaged her devoted husband to help her carry across the goal line. The Christine Weeks Ovarian Cancer Foundation stands today as a realization-in-progress of their collective dream.
You see, Christine's fate could have been very different had some additional basic testing been performed earlier on. The fact that not only her mother, but four aunts all had breast cancer should have sent up a glaring signal to Christine's physicians to investigate ovarian cancer in addition to the usual mammograms. Where there is an increased likelihood for breast cancer, the probability of ovarian lesions rises concomitantly. This should not have been news to the medical community. Yet, when she complained of a triad of telltale symptoms in April of 1999, she was told it was pre-menopausal and "just part of being a woman". By the time she had the proper testing done, it was too late. In her last weeks and days, Christine expressed her commitment to ensuring the safety of her children against the ravages of the disease that had wracked her family. And what would benefit her family should also benefit women everywhere.
They say when God closes a door He opens a window. The Christine Weeks Ovarian Cancer Foundation is just that window. And what better husband and provider than Wally to entrust this awesome responsibility to? His matchless energy, resourcefulness, and enthusiasm - coupled with massive community love and support - have already struck paydirt. Goal number one is increased awareness. The Foundation's informational brochure outlines the symptoms any woman must be watchful of, and also delineates the battery of tests all of which must be performed for earliest possible detection. It is a must-have. For a copy of this brochure, please contact:
204 Shaker Road
Longmeadow, MA 01106
Wally tells me there are many similar foundations around the country, and each is the result of another woman falling victim to this insidious disease. Another goal is to unify these individual cells into a power bloc. "Only United Will Our Voices Be Heard" as the brochure states. The Foundation is currently working to enact legislation, which would mandate insurance companies to underwrite proper and thorough testing of women at risk, so that more botched diagnoses and unnecessary deaths will be prevented.
This summer, thanks to the Foundation's work, an important clinical study will commence right here in Springfield. High-risk women all over Western Massachusetts will have the opportunity to participate in this vital program. Heading up the study is Dr. David Fishman of the Northwestern University Hospital's National Ovarian Cancer Early Detection Program. Wally tells me Dr. Fishman is the number one man in the field, and has a definitive blood test in his repertoire which could revolutionize the diagnosis of ovarian cancer and may very well lead to its eradication. I have a feeling the good doctor will get to see a lot of Wally smile and his game face, as well! I'm sure he will be seeing an awful lot of Wally. Count on that!
Although Wally is a pillar of strength and cheerful determination, there surely must be times and occasions when sensations of sadness, loss and loneliness are overwhelming. At bedtime, at dinnertime anytime; finding old mementos in the back of a closet, perhaps. Wally keeps busy. Holidays can also be tough, I am sure. This Sunday is Mother's Day, perhaps the toughest of them all for Wally and the children. Christine wrote an open letter just three weeks before she died. It is, in a way, a loving Mother's dying declaration. She would want to share it with you, as it portrays a mother's most final concerns, fears and wishes wishes she would never live to realize. From this letter, Wally formulated his ultimate game plan.
So, on the occasion of this Mother's Day 2003, by way of heartfelt tribute to and admiration for the Weeks Family, here is:
"For many years, I have been a patient of the same doctor and was comfortable that he was protecting my well-being. Otherwise, I would have switched doctors, as any reasonable person would do. Over the years, we discussed my family history and shared a mutual concern that I was in a high-risk classification for breast cancer.
In the spring of 1999, I was concerned that there was something wrong with me; and during my April 1999 visit, the doctor put my mind at ease as to what my three symptoms were. After an internal exam, he explained that my symptoms were nothing more than a common pre-menopausal condition.
Today, I certainly have a much better understanding of what a correct diagnosis of my symptoms would have meant. I have learned about this through my own horrible experience and not through information that the doctor should have made me aware of.
The sad part about this mistake is that as aggressive and insidious as my cancer is, it responded very well to treatment. That extra time between the misdiagnosis and the correct diagnosis caused the tumor masses to become much larger than they would have been had my condition been correctly diagnosed in April of 1999. I have been told that aggressive cancer can double in size in relatively short periods of time. Certainly, no one can ever say that this misdiagnosis did not make a difference. I challenge anyone who feels that way to wait for nine months after a cancer is found to start treatment.
My question is, "why was it never suggested to me that a complete examination be given and an ultrasound, cat scan, or a CA125 blood test taken"? Had these types of tests been a part of my yearly exam, they would have revealed my cancer well before my symptoms appeared.
I should have been provided with a complete understanding and thorough protection, particularly with my family history. Had such occurred, my situation would have evolved very differently. I do not want any other woman to put their family and loved ones into the nightmare that I have forced upon my family.
Doctors seen and consulted with since my cancer diagnosis, once becoming familiar with my family history and my spring 1999 symptoms, conclude that additional testing should have been automatic. Obviously, this did not occur. I feel compelled to let people know that doctors should not be allowed to disregard clear symptoms like I had and pass it off simply as 'It is just part of being a woman" (i.e., pre-menopausal) without testing thoroughly for other potential sources of the problem. Many doctors call for cat scans; ultrasounds or CA125 tests as part of regular exams of the abdominal region even if the patient in question does not have any family history. I question why there appears to be no standard for testing, and now know that testing is the right thing to do. Again, it is upsetting to me to know that if I had had a different doctor, detection could have taken place much earlier. I was sent for the appropriate mammograms but as I know now, that was only part of my potential problem.
I would not want to see any other woman go through the anxiety, discomfort, and pain that I have gone through.
We have been told by specialists that my treatments could have cured me, had we caught this just months earlier. They have assured my husband earlier this month that proper exams and testing for our two daughters should protect them from getting in the situation that I am experiencing. My son will also be regularly tested, as my family history can affect him, too.
It is a comfort to me that specialists feel that thorough
testing will protect my children from cancer getting ahead of
them. I am comforted to know that they will get better protection
through quality exams, which I now know that I didn't get. Proper
testing, of course, cannot prevent cancer. However, it can result
in early detection that will allow doctors to control the disease.