Photograph by H. Scott Heist
Dave Downs was one of those people who just didn’t like going to the doctor’s. His anxiety about all things medical would make him “feel queasy in the waiting room.” He had avoided doctors most of his life with the exception of getting a basic physical every two years to keep up his pilot’s license. Born and raised on a farm near Wycombe, he enjoyed good health and worked most of his life as a land surveyor. So when it came time to get a routine colonoscopy at age 50, Dave dragged his feet.
Several years later (13 to be exact), he was having some bowel issues but thought they would go away, he explained. After numerous urgings from his family physician, Dave “finally broke down” and went for the colonoscopy.
It was October 2005 when Doylestown Hospital gastroenterologist Robert Hale, MD, discovered the tumor. It was rectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in either the colon or the rectum. Colon cancer and rectal cancer have many features in common. According to the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the United States.
Dave wasn’t really familiar with rectal cancer. He learned about it as he went along. “Some of it was pure bliss and ignorance,” he remembers. But he knew it was serious when the doctors moved fast to start treatment. “There was no fooling around about getting me in there,” he said. In November, Dave had a port placed for chemotherapy. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments for three months to try to shrink the tumor before surgery.
Under the care of Mitchell Alden, DO, he had his chemo treatments at The Cancer Institute of Doylestown Hospital. “The infusion nurses were absolutely wonderful,” said Dave. “I always felt comfortable, I always felt safe.” Even when he wasn’t feeling well. The chemo took its toll on Dave, who struggled with not having the energy to do the things he normally did. He was hospitalized for six days at one point, and made several trips to the ER. “I cannot say one bad thing about anyone I met at Doylestown Hospital—from the techs to the nurses to the people in the ER,” said Dave.
After recovering from that round of treatment, Dave had surgery at Doylestown Hospital to remove the tumor. He returned every three months for a PET/CT scan to see if the cancer had come back. Dave also went through six more months of chemotherapy. He came to The Cancer Institute every other Monday for six hours at a time. He never looked at a date, preferring to count down the actual number of treatments instead. Through it all the nurses helped Dave have a positive attitude by being strong themselves. “When I was done the chemo, I told the nurses I never saw any of them have a bad day.”
Dave slowly started to feel better. He comes back to Doylestown Hospital just once a year now for his scans. He had a colonoscopy in March that showed no return of the cancer. For the first time since his experience with cancer began, he asked the doctor ‘how bad was it?’ “He told me I beat the odds,” said Dave.
Dave and his wife, Ruth Ann Nagel, live on a farm in Fountainville. They take care of their farm animals and Dave has a couple part-time jobs that keep him busy. As for all things medical, “I take it all very seriously,” he noted. Dave added that he’s hoping to spread the word about the importance of cancer screenings. “I have already convinced two people to get colonoscopies. In retrospect, had I gone when I was told to, they would have found it a whole lot earlier.”
Dave approached his cancer with a no-nonsense, can-do attitude, determined to follow the orders of his team at The Cancer Institute.
“I figured I just had to do what I was told. I never doubted that at the end I would be walking out of it. This is what life dealt me and this is what I’m going to do. And I’m standing here today.”