Cancer patient pins hopes on ‘miracle drug’
Until Friday, Kent and Sherry Watson had planned to head for Houston early this week to meet with a doctor who would possibly offer hope for Kent’s future.
Instead, they found a “miracle” that allowed them to remain at their Corydon home and offered them their first sign of hope after a frightening three weeks.
It started when Kent, 39, decided to see a doctor because he was experiencing fatigue and shortness of breath.
“I couldn’t work like I had in the past,” said Kent, who’s worked for Indiana Utilities since 1986.
And if he was doing strenuous work, Watson could feel his heart flutter.
“There wasn’t any pain, just pressure,” he said Monday afternoon at his home.
Because he’d been relatively healthy, Kent hadn’t seen a physician since his former doctor moved away. At his wife’s urging, he contacted Dr. Reggie Lyell and saw him Aug. 27.
Several tests, including an EKG, were done, and a chest X-ray showed an enlarged heart.
Lyell was concerned and scheduled an ultrasound for the following day. The news wasn’t good: There was a large mass on Kent’s heart.
The Watsons, 1981 graduates of Corydon Central High School who have been married 10-1/2 years, were very concerned, but the worst news was yet to come.
Kent, the son of Carlton and Jeanette Watson of Corydon, was at work, reading water meters the next day when he received word that the doctor wanted to see him immediately.
Sherry, 39, the administrative assistant for the Harrison County Convention and Visitors Bureau in Corydon, got a similar call. They met at the doctor’s office.
“They told us that the right side of his heart is very sick,” Sherry said. “They said we needed to get him seen right away.”
The Watsons spent the next day, Friday, Aug. 30 (Sherry’s birthday), at Jewish Hospital in Louisville. Doctors did an echocardiogram.
The prognosis was angiosarcoma, or a tumor on the heart.
“They said the only option was a heart transplant, which scared me to death,” Sherry said.
A couple of spots were also detected on Kent’s lungs. A biopsy was done to remove the spots, one which turned out to be calcium deposits. Doctors cautioned that the spots could return.
A specialist in Houston, “who has dealt more with sarcoma,” Sherry said, was recommended to the couple.
The Watsons began arranging a trip to Texas.
During an appointment with his oncologist on Sept. 12, Kent learned of a relatively new drug that is being used to treat some cancers.
Touted as “the miracle drug,” Gleevec came out in February, Sherry said. “It’s never been tested on angiosarcoma.”
However, the doctors didn’t want to raise false hopes. Initially, “the chances weren’t great that it would be able to be used on me,” Kent said.
Testing was done and the pathologist gave them the word later that day that “everything matched up,” Kent said.
Because the drug is expensive and rarely used, most pharmacies don’t carry it. The Watsons contacted Butt Rexall Drug in Corydon to make arrangements to fill the prescription, and by the next morning Kent was in the drug store, taking his first dose.
“He asked for a cup of water and took it right there in the store,” Sherry said.
Kent takes four capsules a day, 100 mg each. Gleevec “targets” the cancer, not the organs, Sherry said.
“I’m very confident this drug is going to work,” he said, adding that he has a follow-up appointment in a few weeks to see if the tumor has shrunk.
“After the good news, we didn’t absorb anything else,” Sherry added.
Heart surgery, rather than a transplant, may be necessary, depending on whether the mass has damaged the heart and, if so, the extent of the damage.
Throughout the horrendous experience, the Watsons said they have been blessed by their family and friends.
Kent started with his wife. “This lady here’s been awesome,” he said. “Our whole family … ”
Ron Watson, Kent’s older brother, who lives in New Palestine, “took notes and asked the right questions” of physicians when Sherry and Kent couldn’t.
“If it wasn’t for (Ron), I don’t know if I would have gotten through it,” Sherry said. “The whole family took over and helped with the kids …” Jordan, 4, and Peyton, 7. (Sherry has two children from a previous marriage: Joshua Rowley, 21, and Jason Rowley, 18.)
Sherry talked about her mother-in-law’s “calmness” through the ordeal.
“I lost it a couple of times,” she said, but Jeanette Watson “never did. She stayed strong and firm. She said, ‘My son’s going to be OK.’ ”
Neighbors mowed the grass, co-workers have helped fill the void while Kent and Sherry have been off from work, and the Watsons “were bombarded” with food, cards and flowers.
“Words can’t describe how moving it’s been,” Sherry said.
Support came from Dr. Lyell and his wife, Gina, “who were there for us,” the Watsons said, and quickly spread to other members of Lincoln Hills Christian Church in Corydon, where the Watsons and the Lyells are members.
The Rev. Webster Oglesby and other ministers visited the Watsons at the hospital during Kent’s stay through Sept. 9.
“Some people were worried about calling or visiting,” Sherry said, “but it meant a lot to all of us.”
She said the calls and visits helped keep them from dwelling on the bleak prognosis before they learned about Gleevec.
“We’ve just had an outpouring of love — it’s been awesome — from the whole community,” Kent said. “I’ve felt the power of prayer.”
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To help the Watsons with expenses, Community First and First Harrison banks have established accounts. Donations can be made to the “Kent Watson Fund” at either bank.
Also, a benefit golf tournament is scheduled for Oct. 6 at the New Salisbury Golf Course. Persons interested in playing should contact Jeff Dunaway (738-1410) or Scott Dunaway (738-3236). Entry fee is $50. Hole sponsorships are available for $100.
A drawing for a homemade porch swing will be held at the golf tournament. Tickets are $1 each or five for $6, and can be purchased by contacting Kim Frederick at 738-3525. Frederick said tickets will also be sold at Corydon Central High School’s football game Friday night.