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Interviews with news makers and discussion of topics important to Southwest Michigan. Subscribe to the podcast through Apple itunes and Google. Segments of interview are heard in WestSouthwest Brief during Morning Edition and All Things Considered

WSW: Asking Questions About Cancer and Chemotherapy

National Cancer Institute/Wikimedia Commons

When Kathryn Surprenant died in 2012, her death certificate initially listed cancer as the cause of death. But her husband Ken says there was more to the story. Kathryn Surprenant passed away after receiving the drug Fluorouracil of 5-FU. Now Ken Surprenant wants people to know more about the drug and ask more questions about treatment. 

Ken Surprenant says his wife's treatment for rectal cancer was to include surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. He was told 5-FU is "fairly well tolerated" and would not cause bad side-effects. "In retrospect I didn't probe further." Kathryn Surprenant had a genetic predisposition that caused a toxic reaction to the drug. She passed away in the summer of 2012. 

Ken Surprenant says the genetic predisposition is rare, and doesn't explain all of the toxic reactions to 5-FU. He says "the numbers don't add up." Asking questions and seeking to educate more people has led him to research, talking to other patients and families and launching a website about the risks of 5-FU. 

Credit WMUK
Ken Surprenant

After his wife's death, Ken Surprenant asked that the doctor change the death certificate to reflect that Kathryn's reaction to the chemotherapy drugs had contributed to her death. The doctor agreed. Surprenant says the numbers may be under reported if families don't take that step. 

Asked what he would tell families facing a similar situation, Surprenant says the first thing is to get tested early if there are signs of colon or rectal cancer. He says early detection may mean that cancer can be treated without chemotherapy. And Surprenant says his wife waited too long to see a doctor about her symptoms. Surprenant families should ask about the risks and what testing is available for the genetic predisposition that led to his wife's death. He says another option may be to start with a lower dose of the drug during the early part of treatment. 

Interview with Ken Surprenant -web version

While she was going through treatment, Kathryn Surprenant kept a blog and wrote about her thanks to the people who had gone down the road before her. She says they contributed to the body of learning that led to the treatment she would receive. Ken Surprenant says he hopes that his wife's experience "would be another page in that book," that will help educate the public and care providers that contributes to better treatment for future patients. 

Gordon Evans became WMUK's Content Director in 2019 after more than 20 years as an anchor, host and reporter. A 1990 graduate of Michigan State, he began work at WMUK in 1996.
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