Just three years ago, John Barnes was making the short commute from his
home in Iowa Park to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, where he
worked maintenance. A former 20-year Navy boilerman, this good-natured
Texan has always been a hard worker and a steady provider for his wife
and two adopted, disabled sons.
On days off and vacation, the Barnes family liked water-skiing, fishing
and just plain relaxing at nearby Lake Arrowhead, and a little farther
away, at Lake Texoma. They planned to do a whole lot more of the same
during a long, hearty retirement.
Today, 61 year-old John Barnes remains good-natured, but he has little
to smile about. He does not possess the physical strength to get his boat
out on the water for even a little light fishing. Cancer has metastasized
from his asbestos-scarred lungs throughout his body and cast a dark shadow
over his life and the lives of all who love him. Before the cancer, he
had to wear a mask to assist his sleeping - due to a sleeping disorder.
Since the cancer, he also needs oxygen to help him sleep.
EARLY TROUBLES LEAD TO A SIMPLE SURGICAL SOLUTION
John traces his troubles back to December 3, 1999, when he underwent a
routine chest film at the Base hospital. The film revealed "bilateral
pleural thickening" (that is, of the thin, Saran Wrap-like tissue
encasing the lungs) which his doctors felt may have been related to his
prior asbestos exposure. The film also showed a nodular density projecting
over the left middle lung. A CT scan was suggested to rule out the possibility
that the nodule represented a tumor.
A December 22, 1999, CT scan at Sheppard revealed nodular densities measuring
nine and 11 centimeters on the right upper lobe. The nodular densities
appeared to be associated with pleural thickening and scarring within
the region of his lungs, and one of the nodular densities looked to have
calcifications associated with it. His doctor also noted the possibility
of "a sequella of prior granulomatous disease", that is, an
inflammatory response to something foreign which had caused pathological
changes in the tissues of the lung and/or pleura.
John underwent a CT-guided biopsy at Sheppard on February 1, 2000. Four
more needle biopsies were taken from the upper lobe of the right lung.
Pathological tests showed the existence of "chronic inflammation"
and scarring of the lungs, as well as focal clusters of atypical cells.
Although "no frank tumor" could be seen within this biopsied
tissue, cytological tests upon fluid removed during the procedure were
suspicious for non-small cell carcinoma. John’s doctors believed
that he had lung cancer.
John and Jane went into shock. John had quit smoking more than a decade
before. But the doctors reassured them that surgery would cure John.
On February 14, 2000, John underwent a right upper lobectomy at the United
Regional Health Care System hospital in Wichita Falls. Intraoperative
frozen-section analysis and subsequent permanent-section analysis of the
biopsied tissue confirmed the diagnosis of adenocarcinoma. Biopsies of
the lymph nodes tested negative for malignancy, a reassuring sign that
the cancer had not spread to other parts of the body.
After surgery, John’s surgeon told him that he had removed all of
the cancer and that John need not worry. John’s doctors did not
prescribe any radiation or chemotherapy treatment. John recovered and
got back to work at the Base. John and his family had dodged the bullet
-- or so it seemed.
AN UNEXPECTED AND TERRIBLE RECURRENCE
About a year later, in the spring of 2001, John sought medical attention
for what he calls "a clogged artery" in his neck. His cardiologist
noted that John had a history of adenocarcinoma and advised him to seek
a follow-up cancer screening. John contacted his primary care physician,
who in turn recommended a CT scan. The CT scan of July 24, 2001 revealed
two-centimeter masses on both adrenal glands. These masses were not present
on the December 22, 1999, CT scan and were "suspicious for metastatic
disease", given John’s prior history of lung cancer.
John was referred to a Wichita Falls oncologist who scheduled a PET scan
extending from the top of the head to the pelvis. The PET scan conducted
on August 15, 2001 at Medical City Dallas found increased metabolic activity
at the "enlarged adrenal gland regions," as well as at the left
lower lobe and in the right lung near the lower trachea. The areas of
increased metabolic activity were consistent with metastases from lung cancer.
In order to be doubly sure before exploring treatment options, John’s
oncologist ordered a repeat PET scan for October 4, 2001, at Baylor Medical
Center in Dallas, Texas. Unfortunately, the second PET scan confirmed
John consulted with his doctors, who recommended that he immediately begin
a chemotherapy regimen utilizing Taxol. The chemo was administered intravenously
in cycles of three consecutive Mondays, followed by one Monday off. John’s
hair began to fall out, and he was tired all the time. He was given Procrit
shots to help increase his energy. A recent CT scan showed that the cancer
was responding to the treatments.
GOING BACK TO REGROUP
John’s doctors told him that he probably had only one more year of
life. Typically, John and Jane looked on the bright side. As Jane wrote,
"We are very lucky as most patients with this type of cancer from
onset to end is 10 months and we are in the tenth month." The couple
decided to take a three-week vacation in the Northeast, and set off after
John’s final chemotherapy treatment.
John and Jane wanted to return to where they began.
Thirty-seven years ago, in 1965, they met at an outdoor movie while he
was stationed with the Navy in Newport, Rhode Island. They were married
five months later. Jane still has family in the Massachusetts town where
she grew up, just over the state line from Newport. Their trip was a time
for family, friends and -- as John hastens to add -- fried clams.
DON’T SIT BACK -- ATTACK!
They returned to Texas on July 5. Ten days later, John consulted with his
oncologist who advised him to continue treatment with Taxol, despite the
prior disappointing CT scan. John agreed to continue; he would rather
attack than sit back.
You can see John’s influence on his two disabled sons, Timmy and
Ronny. He did not coddle them, but challenged them. Their progress at
water-skiing serves as a great example -- they crashed a lot at first,
but they kept trying, and soon they were standing on their own. His sons
had the strength to fight through their disabilities and playground taunts
to graduate from high school. In his senior year, Ronny made the golf
team. He got his brother hooked on the game, and now the two head out
to the links together.
John wants to get back out on the water, but he just can’t do it
yet. The 19-footer needs an oil change, and the impeller in the water
pump has to be replaced, but his cancer and the chemo are still holding
him back. So for now, Jane stays home with him and sews while John passes
time on the computer. He tries to keep his mind off what will happen to
Jane and his sons if he can’t get better, but it’s hard. John
was the sole breadwinner in the family.
So when these dark thoughts come, John will simply prod himself: "I’m
not gonna go!", he says. "I’m sticking around. If that
bicycle rider can do it, so can I." John goes on to mention that
Lance Armstrong is leading the Tour de France but laughs, "You won’t
find me on a bicycle!"
The burly boilerman may not have the right stuff to win the Tour de France,
but he has all the tools to beat lung cancer. We will keep you posted
on the progress of this lesser known but equally determined Texan.
*** POSTED JULY 22, 2002 ***
*** Mr. John Barnes passed away on December 11, 2003 ***