Every New Day Is A Gift

Every new day is considered by Rita Watts to be an incredible blessing. In the 23 months since she was given the grim diagnosis of Stage 4 stomach and pancreatic cancer, she hasn’t just survived, she has lived.

She still socializes with friends, still goes to an exercise class and still cooks, although she can’t eat what she cooks.  Her own nutrition is delivered through a feeding tube and she cannot eat solid foods.

Rita Watts

Rita Watts has outlived her
grim prognosis of cancer by
nearly 18 months. Each day
she continues to not only
survive, but to live her life.

“I have to follow recipes more closely because I can’t taste the results,’’ she said with a chuckle.

Not once during a recent conversation did she seem sick.

“We just went to Kansas City for the weekend to visit my daughter and my granddaughter, who is 10 months old now. My granddaughter is Carmen.  She was named after my mother,’’ she beamed.

Survival can mean different things to different cancer patients. It can mean 100 percent absence of cancer. It can mean remission. To Rita Watts, it means the next day.

“I have experienced so much since I was diagnosed. It has been wonderful.  I’ve seen a son married and I’ve spent time with grandchildren. I’ve been with my friends and spent more time with my husband,’’ she explained. “At first, when you get a diagnosis like this, you think ‘what do I do now?’’’

What Rita Watts has done is keep on living and loving. She long ago surpassed her prognosis of six months.  A retired administrator with the Davenport Community Schools, she has been treated by Genesis oncologist Dr. David Mercer with an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy. For about 15 hours each day she is hooked up to receive nutrition through a feeding tube.

Her test results indicate her tumors are not growing. That is great news.  “As long as the tumors aren’t growing, I’ll be on the chemotherapy,’’ she explained. “If they spread or grow, the chemotherapy will be stopped.’’

Along her cancer journey, she has been a Genesis inpatient, an infusion patient, a chemotherapy patient and a patient who has used the services of Genesis Home Medical Equipment and Genesis VNA and Hospice.

“Everyone I’ve come in contact with has been wonderful. But it hasn’t just been the people, it has been the medical treatment and continuum of care that have impressed me,’’ she said. “There is communication between the doctors and nurses and everyone who I come into contact with. They all have access to my information, which makes it easier for patients to not have to explain their condition each time they see someone.

“The level of care from everyone -- from the cancer nurse navigators, to the oncology nurses in the unit, to Dr. Mercer’s staff, to everyone in the infusion center, to the home health people -- it has been overwhelming.  They know their patients, and they care about them personally.”

It was natural when she was diagnosed that she would want a second opinion. Maybe someone else at the big centers was doing something new.  Dr. Mercer’s office referred her to the Mayo Clinic for that second opinion.

“What they said at the Mayo Clinic was that Dr. Mercer was doing everything that should be done by treating me aggressively,’’ she said. “They said to go back and do what we were already doing. That gave me confidence in how I was being treated. I was getting what was best for me right here.’’

Genesis Health System has invested millions of dollars in recent years to provide cancer patients in the region with advanced technology and treatment options, along with support services, to treat the whole cancer patient.

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