God presents Mark Hice with a new purpose in life
CARROLLTON – Mark Hice thought he knew his purpose in life.
He’s a husband, the father of two grown children and a grandfather. He retired from his job at the Timken Company in April 2014 and was enjoying life on the farm. What more could there be?
Hice learned a few months ago, God has another plan for him: to help others.
The Arrow Rd., Carrollton, man was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in September 2016, underwent surgery to remove his esophagus in December, celebrated his 61st birthday in January and is now putting his life back together.
He says God laid out a plan for him and now he intends to do his part and share his experience with others.
“Early detection is the key to surviving this,” said Mark, sitting at the kitchen table of his home. “I had the warning signs, but chose to ignore them.”
Those warning signs (symptoms) include heartburn, which Mark said he had never experienced until May 2016.
“I started having heartburn a couple times a week, which was odd for me,” he said. By mid July, I was having trouble swallowing and by August it had gotten a lot worse. At that point I decided to make an appointment with a gastroenterologist.”
Mark underwent an endoscope in the clinic at the doctor’s office in Canton under twilight aesthesia.
“When I woke up, the doctor put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘I have bad news. It’s very grim. You have cancer. You can have chemo (chemotherapy) and radiation’. To me that was a death sentence,” Mark stated.
“The tumor inside my esophagus had eaten through three of the four layers,” he said.
His prognosis: if he did nothing to treat the cancer, he had an eight percent chance of living; if he completed chemo and radiation, he had a 20 percent chance to live five years; and with surgery, he had a 60 to 80 percent chance to live five years.
“I knew my only chance was to have the surgery, if I was a candidate,” he said.
That day started a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments and treatments for Mark with his wife, Dyane, by his side.
The first thing they had to do was talk to their two children, Heather Kiko and Matt Hice and their families. “That was the hardest,” said Dyane.
The next day, Mark had a CT scan; Sept. 14 he met with his oncologist and learned he had Stage 2 squamous-cell esophageal cancer and, Sept. 24, he had his first chemo treatment. Radiation treatments were five days a week for 25 days and chemo treatments were every Monday for five weeks. He completed chemo and radiation Oct. 25; right on schedule to meet the recovery period required for the Dec. 12 surgery at Cleveland Clinic.
The plan was to remove Mark’s esophagus, reshape his stomach and attach it to his throat. On the day of surgery, the surgeon would first make a small incision along the actual incision line. He would reach in to determine if the cancer had metastasized at all. Dyane, who kept family and friends updated with her posts on CaringBridge.com, wrote that day, “Please pray there is no cancer anywhere else. If there is, the surgery will stop.”
She was happy to post an update at 9:13 a.m. that morning saying, “the surgery is a go! We are praising God and His amazing grace that this surgery will continue.”
Thanks to Mark’s excellent health condition, he was up and walking Dec. 14, but he was well aware of the long recovery period ahead. Dyane said when her husband returned from surgery, he had nine tubes in his body as well as two arterial lines and his normal IV.
Sitting in the kitchen chair, Mark pointed out his neck incision, which originally was held together by 10 staples. The scar left by his abdominal incision was over 15 inches in length. “No staples there,” he said. “It was glued.”
Through his doctor, he was put in contact prior to the surgery with a man from Massillon, Steve, who underwent the same surgery a year earlier. “He became my friend and was such a big help,” Mark related. “He prepared me every step of the way so we knew what to expect.”
On Dec. 20 Mark and Dyane headed home from Cleveland Clinic. Mark had a feeding tube that went directly into his intestine for nutrition as he was not permitted to swallow for five weeks.
“We had to flush the feeding tube six times a day with 130cc of water. That was how he got his water,” explained Dyane, displaying the medical equipment she learned to use. “We had to mix up his food (liquid) and give it to him through the tube as well.”
His follow-up visits with doctors produced pathology reports with a “complete response.”
Mark said the nurse practitioner he saw during a Dec. 29 post op appointment called him “amazing.”
“There was no cancer in any of the samples, so there was no need for chemo after the surgery,” Mark explained. “With a complete response, I am hoping for a better survival rate than the 80 percent they gave me,” he said as a smile spread across his face.
Mark progressed through the recovery stage on pace and, on Feb. 10, he was taken off the feeding tube. His first meal was three ounces of yogurt and eight ounces of water.
Dyane credits God with providing the path and strength for the family to get through the entire process.
“God laid out a plan for us and we followed it. He guided us from the very beginning to all of the right pathways,” said Dyane.
As of the middle of February, Mark was walking a mile and half a day on a treadmill and beginning and looking forward to life returning to somewhat normal.
“I have another scope March 21 and I hope the feeding tube comes out then,” he said pointing to its location on his side. Even though I use it, but they left it in there until they are certain it is ok to remove it.”
After that appointment, it’s on to his new purpose in life: helping others.
“I owe a lot to Steve for helping me through this,” he said. “He was there for me and I want to be there for others. I want to share my experience, but foremost, I can’t say enough how important it is for people not to ignore the warning signs. As I now know, early detection is the key to beating this cancer. If there is one message I want to get out there, it’s for people to heed the warning signs: If you don’t normally have heartburn, have it checked out. Those antacids sitting there may look tempting, but survival rates with this type of cancer are based on early detection. Don’t wait. Make the appointment.”