Medical background helps nurse practitioner fight colon cancer
Doug Person looked forward to his annual trip to Aruba with his sister and cousin, but this time, something was off.
“I had a difficult time maneuvering through the airport and needed a wheelchair,” Person, 72, of Newport News says of the trip in 2015. “When I got back to the states, I continued to feel sick.”
Person, a retired nurse practitioner, decided it was time see a doctor and went to the emergency room at Sentara CarePlex Hospital. Doctors determined he was experiencing blood loss and ordered a blood transfusion. Then they needed to find the source of the bleeding.
After ordering GI tests and a colonoscopy, doctors discovered stage 4 colorectal cancer. The cancer was aggressive and so was the treatment, Person says.
At first, Person was stunned by the diagnosis in July 2015. He experienced no symptoms and had regular colonoscopies, but his mind quickly turned to a clinical mode.
“I thought, ‘Not the big ‘C,’ but then I thought we can do chemo and radiation, and I started thinking of all the modalities that would be available,” he says. “I didn’t feel the same sense of dread that, I imagine, other people given that diagnosis would feel because of my medical background.”
In fact, Person blazed trails as he pursued his medical education after serving time in the Army in Vietnam. He was the first male to graduate from Thomas Nelson Community College’s nursing program with an associate degree in 1973.
Then he worked at George Washington University Hospital where he heard about a nurse practitioner program starting at the university. He was the first male to receive a degree from the NP program, graduating in 1980.
Person worked for more than 20 years as a nurse. He was even on duty when President Ronald Reagan was shot in in 1981 and whisked to George Washington University Hospital for emergency surgery along with his press secretary James Brady.
Person’s treatment included two rounds of chemo and 32 weeks of radiation. He also underwent surgery at Sentara CarePlex Hospital to remove the tumor. Person relied on his cousin, Gail, siblings and other close friends to take him to treatments and help as he recovered, but he also managed to maintain a positive outlook.
“I tried to make the best of it,” says Person. “I knew I couldn’t succumb to negative feelings, and I’d always have to be positive and push myself. There were days I didn’t feel well, and I rested, but I also made myself get up and move. If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
Person’s last round of chemo was completed in January 2016 and in April of 2017, doctors declared him cancer free after his PET scan. Person stresses the importance of regular colonoscopies. He scheduled his every five years. Unfortunately, the cancer was discovered just as he was nearing the five-year mark for his next colonoscopy.
“It’s quite easy for people to put colonoscopies off, “Person said. “You can see that even having them every five years can still lead to a colon cancer diagnosis. If I hadn’t felt sick, I wouldn’t have known.”