WK Clark tells his cancer survivor story.
As part of Emery County's Relay for Life 2010, we honor and remember those who have battled cancer valiantly and taught us many truths in the process, and we salute survivors. This year's Relay theme is: "Save More Lives, Celebrate More Birthdays."
Heroes don't wake up one day and set out to be a hero. George Washington began as a soldier following orders. Spiderman didn't search for a poisonous spider. Most real heroes are only doing what they had to do.
This week we spotlight Bill "W.K." Clark of Orangeville. A tall, trim man with a quick smile and sharp wit, WK heard the phrase, "it's cancer" in October 2006. That proved to be the incentive to finally quit smoking. WK felt healthy and hearty, a man in his prime, with plans for the future involving his wife, two sons, a daughter and grandchildren. It was time to enjoy the benefits of having worked long, hard years at the Hunter Plant, not face the life-changing challenge of throat cancer.
Thank goodness for a chronic sore throat and an astute ear, nose, and throat doctor. WK was seated in preparation for the relatively minor procedure of having his eardrum lanced in an effort to relieve a persistent and worsening earache. WK asked his doctor if his sore throat would go away after the lancing. Dr. Peterson sent WK immediately to Castleview for a CT scan.
The results showed a quarter-sized tumor in the left side of his throat. A biopsy determined it to be a "fast growing tonsil cancer." This was puzzling to WK as he had his tonsils removed years ago, but the tumor was growing where the tonsil would have been. Choosing between radiation or surgery provided the first major lesson in cancer 101. Since surgery had several permanent side effects, WK opted for radiation as the initial step.
Treatments began right after Thanksgiving. It was a holiday celebrated with new meaning that year. Radiation for throat cancers wreaks havoc on teeth. Extracting many teeth is a common preventative measure prior to beginning radiation.
There is a strong common bond between a dentist's chair and a chemo chair, fear. WK was far more fearful of having his teeth extracted than he was of the cancer treatments. Gratefully he didn't have any pain from the dentist's chair. He credits God for that. Thus treatments began with nearly two months of radiation treatments five-six days a week.
His neck was always sore with blisters and what looked like a severe sunburn on the outside. His throat was so raw that even mashed potatoes felt like "hot burning sand" going down. He developed thrush that stayed for months after treatments ended and his sense of taste still has not returned.
Then came the chemo. WK was asked to participate in the trial of a new chemotherapy medication called cetuximab (Erbitux) for the treatment of throat cancers. This went on for about 18 treatments over six more weeks. WK experienced some of his most memorable and humbling feelings "sitting in the chemo lab surrounded by people who would be talking to God soon." He felt heartbroken and guilty - guilty to be taking up the space when there were so many cancer victims so much worse off than he was.
Many throat cancer patients end up with a feeding tube due to extreme weight loss and malnutrition. WK lost 95 pounds but, thanks his private RN, his wife, Peggy, for incredible care and lots of milkshakes that kept him off a feeding tube. WK will probably continue to have swallowing difficulties, but you won't hear him complaining about that. What you will notice is how much his outlook on life has changed.
WK is fully recovered and cancer-free now, but despises the way cancer haunts him and his family. Every cold and fever brings a stillness into the air where the question hangs, is it cancer?
WK knows this cancer has been harder on his family than him, both emotionally and financially. He describes the ordeal as quite a test of faith and knows he has grown because of it. He reaches out to more people in his life in more ways than before. He is not afraid to show others he cares about them. He is one of our hometown heroes.