Surviving prostate cancer – with two special attributes
Ted Karras has at least two outstanding attributes: his great smile and his Hawaiian shirts.
His broad grin is often hidden behind a mask these days, but his shirts were in full bloom as he went through 39 radiation treatments for prostate cancer at Cape Cod Healthcare’s Davenport-Mugar Cancer Center in Hyannis recently.
Every day, Karras, 83, wore one of his dozen Hawaiian shirts to treatment.
“They are so comfortable,” he said on a video call wearing a blue shirt with colorful flowers. “They’re lightweight and everything, and they're very classic. I love them. They're colorful, but they're nice and light.”
On his last day of treatment, his three radiation oncology technicians -- Laurel Bryant, Silvia Muniz de Lima and Haley Lindsay -- had a tropical-style surprise for him.
“When I walked around the corner, I almost fell down,” Karras said. “They were in their Hawaiian shirts doing the hula.”
The “kids” or “girls” as Karras refers to them, have a total of almost 40 years of experience at Cape Cod Healthcare. Their support and compassion made all the difference, he said. “I can’t tell you how much it meant to me and how easy it made going through this treatment.”
Karras, who was one of 10 children growing up in Barnstable Village, owns a landscaping business and has been married to his wife, Mary Lou, for 62 years. He had not had an easy year leading up to his radiation treatments.
Doctors had been watching his prostate and in the spring of 2019 when his PSA (prostate-specific antigen) numbers started to climb, Hyannis Urologist Jose Reyes, MD, ordered an MRI. The imaging showed cancer cells not only in his prostate but in his spleen and lymph nodes. That led to surgery to remove and biopsy his spleen, and a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Karras then had chemotherapy at the Dana-Farber Cancer Center at South Shore Hospital.
That seemed to get the aggressive lymphoma under control but Karras still had prostate cancer. His doctors recommended he work with Radiation Oncologist Basia McAnaw, MD at Cape Cod Hospital and Falmouth Hospital, so he could receive daily radiation treatments in Hyannis, near his home in West Yarmouth. Although treatments were postponed a bit because of the pandemic, Karras finished on July 31. On his last day, he and the nurses were all in Hawaiian shirts as he rang the bell that signifies treatment is finished.
“I’m a strong guy but it’s not easy going through what I went through,” he said. “I did it very well but only because of the people who treated me. Those girls answered all my questions. They even let me take photos of the machine so I could come back and show my wife.”
Karras’ daughter, Tammy Saben of Yarmouth, said she was impressed by how well her dad’s treatment was coordinated among the different hospitals and by how the Cape Cod Hospital radiation team brought joy into a hard process.
“He would come home and tell me every day about ‘the girls,’ how they treated him; ‘the ladies,’” she said. “And he would have me laughing and crying about how he's actually enjoying radiation…. It’s crazy.”
Karras feels pretty good these days and said he plans to live at least another decade. When he’s not working, he cares for the koi in his backyard fish pond, a spot that brought him comfort when he was in treatment. And, he’s invited his radiation team and their spouses for dinner at Tammy’s house once social distancing rules are eased. He and his family are grateful for a healthcare team that went the extra mile, or in this case, shirt.
“They had to go out and buy those Hawaiians with them to do that,” he said. “My goodness. I was laughing with tears in my eyes.”