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Cancer patients often find hope and inspiration from the personal stories of others who have faced cancer.

Pat Romsos’ Story
Pat Romsos suffered a recurrence of his cancer and he passed away on March 18, 2010. Pat helped many other cancer patients during his cancer journey over the past several years through his participation on the Billings Clinic Cancer Center Advisory Board, support groups, cancer survivor programs and patient education videos. We are grateful to him and his family.
Pat and Lynette Romsos
Pat and Lynette Romsos

Living with cancer. That’s what I have been doing for the past 15 years. In 1995 I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After prostate surgery, my doctors discovered chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in a lymph node that they biopsied.

CLL is a disease in which too many lymphocytes (infection-fighting white blood cells) develop in the blood and bone marrow. There is not a cure for chronic lymphocytic leukemia, but people can live with it for many years. They explained that treatment wasn’t needed until my blood work showed it was progressing. I didn’t have any symptoms until a few years later when my oncologist started infusion therapy.

In 2003 I started getting infusion therapy for the CLL. I started to feel worse in early 2005 and was admitted to the hospital at Billings Clinic in February. I had developed a cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection that caused aplastic anemia, which means I had no bone marrow left. I spent seven weeks in a neutropenic room of the oncology unit. (A neutropenic room has positive airflow to bring in fresh air and keep contaminants out of the room for patients without a working immune system.)

For many weeks my only visitors were my nurses and my wife Lynette. My prognosis did not look good after several weeks, so we decided to ask our daughter Wendy to fly to Billings from Gambia, Africa, where she was in the Peace Corps, and our son Scott to fly in from Arizona, so they could see me for the last time, or so we thought.

I still did not have any white blood cells and would not be able to fight infection. Consequently, Dr. Whittenberger, my oncologist, said I must stay in the hospital and could not go home.

My older brother called me from Denver and asked me to stay in the hospital for one more week so he could visit “one more time.” I stayed in the hospital receiving treatments, including neupogen, a drug which helps grow normal white blood cells. My wife and kids discussed my impending death and what we wanted to do for my funeral. My brother came and I stayed in the hospital during the week before Easter.

On March 17, Easter Sunday, they did another blood test and found I had 100 white cells, more than I’d had for the past six weeks. Two of my brothers and my cousins came and we celebrated with a wine and cheese party with my family. My white blood cell count kept getting better and I was released from the hospital on April 1.

Pope John Paul II died on Saturday night, April 2. One of my nurses teased me that God decided that he didn’t want me after all - he wanted Pope John in heaven and I wouldn’t be dying that spring. We thought it was a miracle.

I spent the next three months getting blood infusions and platelets and finally had normal blood marrow. The CLL went into remission until July of 2008. I had four infusions of Cytoxen and am now in remission again.

Since then, I have gone to the Billings Clinic Infusion Center once a month for the immune globulin (IVIG) to help my immune system and reduce the risk of infection.

What gave you strength during your cancer journey?

I believe in a higher power.

The Billings Clinic cancer support groups and survivor classes helped me, as well as journaling to write about my feelings. Now I like to help other cancer patients by going to these support groups for cancer and COPD (cardiopulmonary disease). Also I am on the Advisory Board of Cancer Survivors at Billings Clinic Cancer Center.

I tell other cancer survivors to do what they want to do. Now. So many cancer patients say “When I get over this I want to go somewhere… or do something or learn something new. Or they say after I make it five years, I will be free from cancer and can do what I want to.” But we don’t always know when that will be. I have faced death and I know you can’t wait for the day you will be cured.

I was born at Deaconess 71 years ago and have always gone to Deaconess, now Billings Clinic. The Billings Clinic nurses helped me so much - both in the Infusion Center and the Hospital. Also, Chuck Heath, a pastor at Billings Clinic Hospital, has helped me a lot when I needed spiritual support. Recently he called and asked me with talk to a hospitalized woman who also had leukemia.

I don’t ask “What if?” or “Why me?” There’s no use worrying about something you can’t control. I ask “What can I do?” and take one day at a time. Next I may try a new drug called bendamustine to fight the cancer. My doctor knows I will try something new if it might improve my quality of life.

I have fun playing with computers, taking photos and videos. I enjoy visiting my friends and family, having coffee together, going for walks with my wife and fishing once in a while.

I love to look through all the cards I received in 2005 from people who thought I was going to die. They wrote me the nicest things about how I had enriched their life. That brings me joy.

I may never be cured of CLL, but I am optimistic that I will keep on living with cancer as long as God wants to keep me here.

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