By Suzanne OvelSeptember 27, 2018
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (September 27, 2018) -- Cancer showed up suddenly, cloaking itself initially as indigestion before becoming impossible to ignore. Less than a month after his first symptoms appeared, Ken Hang learned the name of the disease that was taking over his world: Stage 3 T-cell lymphoma.
"It was pretty shocking, and it was also amazing how quickly he got sick. He went from totally fine and healthy to within maybe two-three weeks later just being in so much pain and so sick that the situation was getting a little bit desperate at that time," said his wife, Alicia Scribner.
At the time of the diagnosis in 2014, Hang was just 36 years old and newly married; Scribner was establishing herself as an obstetrics/gynecology resident at Madigan Army Medical Center. The couple hadn't even gone through their wedding photos yet.
"It's a really aggressive form of cancer. The pain was just getting progressively worse; sleeping was just not really an option anymore; eating wasn't really possible anymore," said Hang. One CT scan at Madigan later, and Hang knew he was facing swollen and malignant lymph nodes. An admission to Madigan's inpatient ward kicked off a series of tests; family medicine, oncology, interventional radiology, medical imaging, and ears, nose and throat specialists all came together to narrow down his diagnosis.
"That was the point where I felt like mountains started moving," said Hang, adding that he's still grateful for all of the teams that came together. He found that T-cell lymphoma is a very rare form of cancer, and he was referred to a specialist at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance though TRICARE.
"I went through all this treatment, and there wasn't any questions on how much is this going to cost and how is this billing going to work. It's like we're going to do whatever it takes to make sure you're well," said Hang, who through his support groups met cancer patients in the community who struggled with the costs of care.
The six months of chemotherapy treatment meant Hang had to step down from his work teaching computer science at Green River College. He describes his coworkers as "another family that came together" to take over his classes and donate leave.
His wife found the same support at her clinic.
"The amount of support that I got was amazing; I mean we couldn't have gotten through it without the people who were around me," said Scribner, now an OB/GYN faculty physician, medical student clerkship director, and OB/GYN simulation director.
She said she uses their experiences to better support her own patients dealing with cancer.
"People checked in on us; people helped us at every step along the way."
Although Hang received treatment and care in Seattle, he said the Madigan team continued to support him by providing primary care, signing him up for the Exceptional Family Member Program, helping with his Family Medical Leave Act paperwork and offering him counseling -- which Hang considers to be an important part of his recovery.
"I think when something happens like this and it's so fast, you're kind of facing mortality unexpectedly. That counseling portion is something that's here in house as well; I consider that to be a really important part of my recovery process," he said.
Hang decided he wanted to learn and grow from his experience with cancer, he said.
"I don't want to pretend it never happened. I want to kind of learn something from this ... It sounds cliché to live every moment, every day; I don't think I really fully understood what that entailed until going through this," Hang said.
He's now three years into remission, just two years away from being considered "cured." He and his wife plan to celebrate that milestone of health. In the meantime, Hang is focusing on expressing gratitude for not just life but the people in it.
"I think one of the things that I took out of this too is these little things we do every day for people, to help each other, to be good to each other," he paused as his voice grew heavy with emotion, considering those who helped him, "when you're faced with a situation you realize it kind of all comes back (to you)."