Esophageal Cancer Survivor
"You never think it will happen to you — and certainly not to you and your spouse," says Kaylee Becker, who has been married to her sweetheart Darren for nearly three decades. Together, the Beckers raised two sons and built a wonderful life in Avoca, Iowa. After a surprise double diagnosis in autumn 2011, they traveled their cancer journey together, both as cancer patients and caregivers.
Kaylee’s diagnosis came after a routine blood test ruled out anemia as the cause of her growing fatigue. At the news Kaylee had chronic myelogenous leukemia, Darren offered his total support and volunteered to shave his head, saying, "I told Kaylee if I could take any part of this for her, I would. Be careful what you wish for. We joke that someone must have been listening." Kaylee smiles, explaining, "At times, you have to joke, or you’ll lose it. Darren was willing to do anything for me, but I didn’t think that would mean getting cancer too." Darren’s diagnosis came exactly six weeks after Kaylee’s. Determined to focus only on Kaylee, Darren had been putting off a checkup for his worsening heartburn. Finally, at his wife’s insistence, Darren saw his doctor. The tests that followed revealed stage III esophageal cancer.
"I wanted the cancer cut out immediately," Darren remembers, "but radiation therapy and chemotherapy came first." After the treatments shrunk the cancer to a fraction of its original size, a 10-inch section of Darren’s lower esophagus and upper stomach was surgically removed. "I lost about 80 pounds," Darren explains, "and I had to learn to eat and drink all over again." The Beckers say they felt blessed that the care both needed was available under one roof from such an expert and compassionate team. Key caregivers included oncologist-hematologist Irina Popa, MD; radiation oncologist Bill Huang, MD; surgical oncologist George Dittrick, MD; oncology dietitian Chandy Lockman Hoke, MS, RD,CSO, LMNT; and counselor Kevin Keeley, LCSW.
"The physicians and staff are just so great, so amazing, including the greeters and valets who are such sweethearts," Kaylee said. "They know you, and you feel like family." Staff say they will be forever inspired by the couple’s courageous, typically upbeat, thoroughly team response to the "double whammy" of two cancer diagnoses. Kaylee and Darren, both in remission, have returned to Methodist Estabrook Cancer Center just to visit with staff, extend their thanks and stroll the Hallway of Hope, something they did countless times during treatment, always gaining strength and courage from the survivors who came before them. Today, the Beckers remain a strong and loving team, reveling in the joy they feel in having their family, friends, faith and a future — together.