At the end of the summer of 2021, Bo Rowe developed a cough. It was not one that was of great concern, but irritating nonetheless. He assumed that the accompanying bad taste in his mouth was attributable to the acid reflux he had been experiencing for a long while. The country was deep into the Covid-19 pandemic. He, his wife Brandy, and their teenage son live in a rural area of Kentucky with extremely limited access to medical care. Bo was reluctant to go to the doctor for what he thought to be nothing.
A Cough and Severe Abdominal Pain Proved it Wasn’t “Nothing”
Bo and his family are avid hikers and campers. On a camping trip near the end of September, Bo recalls laying in the camper with intense chest pains and a cough that required – but was not cured by – cough drops. Constantly.
By October, with the cough still plaguing him, Bo, Brandy, and their son took a cruise. While on the cruise, Bo developed a pain in his abdomen that was so painful he was unable to tie his own shoes. Fearing that things might escalate further he asked Brandy what kind of medical facilities were on ships. What he did not tell her was that he had coughed up blood. By this time, Bo suspected something was very wrong.
CT Scan Without Contrast Needs More Data
Immediately upon arriving home, Bo scheduled an appointment with his general practitioner – who is also a close friend – who suspected the pain in his abdomen was the result of pancreatitis but, leaving no stone unturned, he ordered a CT scan. It took two weeks for him to get on the CT schedule 45 minutes from their home. The results of that scan showed an abnormality in his liver, pneumonia, a kidney stone, and possibly a collapsed lung. The radiologist wanted more data, so ordered another scan with contrast. For this appointment, Bo had to wait a month.
In the time that he was awaiting the second scan, he was prescribed antibiotics, but instead of improving, Bo felt worse; he was fatigued and had developed a significant shortness of breath. Brandy, who happens to be a school nurse at the same school that Bo teaches, was very much on top of what was happening with Bo and his worsening symptoms. One day, the two left school and headed directly to the doctor. Brandy asked for a chest x-ray. Again, this necessitated them driving 45 minutes each way, but they were growing desperate and fearful. The results of that xray supported the physician’s pneumonia diagnosis and Bo began another round of antibiotics, this time with cough medicine.
CT Scan with Contrast Found at Larger Hospital
Ten days later, with no improvement in Bo’s health. Brandy reached out to a larger hospital – hours away – and made an appointment with a pulmonologist who prescribed an inhaler, to, at the very least, alleviate Bo’s symptoms while they awaited a contrast CT scheduled for the following day. They wound up doing it that very afternoon. Bo and Brandy took the long drive home, still with no real answers.
The next morning, Bo’s general practitioner called Brandy at work and told her that she and Bo needed to come in to see him as soon as possible. Her heart sank. The quickly drove to the doctor’s office and, with tears in his eyes he told them that there were 12 lesions on Bo’s liver. Initial diagnosis: liver cancer.
The following two weeks were tortuous as they waited to be seen in Lexington – a long way from their home in rural Kentucky. On November 30, 2021 the oncologist told them:
“We are hoping it is only in the liver, but it almost never starts in the liver.”
Bo underwent a CT scan from his neck to his pelvis before they embarked on the long ride home. At 7:15 p.m. the phone rang.
“You’ve got stage IV lung cancer. It has metastasized to your lung, liver, and bone. We don’t know about your brain yet. We will keep you as comfortable as we can for as long as we can.”
They were devastated. And Brandy, for her part, flew into nurse mode and made the doctor promise that they would begin any treatments or regimens as soon as possible and were prepared to fight with everything they had.
Bo and Brandy are people of great faith. That very night, they first told their son followed by the rest of the family. Prayer is an integral part of their lives, and, if ever they felt reliant upon its powers, it was now.
CT Scan with Contrast + Biomarker Testing Key to Effective Treatment
Over the course of the next few weeks. Bo learned that the tumor was behind his heart, making a traditional biopsy impossible. A brain MRI provided further, and more frightening news. Bo’s cancer was not only in his lung, his hips, and brain, but also ran the entirety of his spinal column. Fortunately for Bo, his doctor was proactive and diligent and send his biopsies out for biomarker testing. Bo’s cancer was ALK+…a fantastic piece of information. In fact, upon sharing this data with Bo, his oncologist told him that everyone on the medical team was celebrating because there was, indeed, a line of treatment for Bo.
By the middle of January 2022, a package arrived in the mail. In it was a targeted medication that Bo would begin taking as soon as he had medical clearance. He would then take eight chemotherapy pills a day…which he remains on today. In April of that year, scans showed that, with the exception of Mets in his brain, everything was shrinking. In July, 90% of Bo’s cancer was gone, including three of the four tumors in his brain. By October: there are only two visible lesions left in the liver. And it is believed that those could, in fact, be scar tissue. And that CT of his lungs which was a, as Bo puts it, “a hot mess”…they are back to normal.
Bo and Brandy – they are so close their names are most often said together – have always lived to retire. They worked hard and took advantage of school vacations traveling as often as they were able (school vacations helped!) Now, Bo has a message:
“Don’t take anything for granted. Every day is a blessing and one should not live your life building for the future because it can all be taken away in a phone call. Now I just want to help other people to fight and to realize that there may be other options. I have loved teaching, but now I wonder what good I can make from my cancer and will do whatever I can to help anyone facing this diagnosis.”
Bo is a perfect example of the importance and power of lung cancer research. Even ten years ago, given the severity of his diagnosis, Bo might well have had few, if any options, that would keep him alive. Add to that the distance from his rural area to a facility to have the definitive CT Scan with contrast. And now, while he will always be a Stage 4 cancer patient, he is living his life, with his faithful sidekick Brandy by his side every step of the way.