Note: Pat Groven is the author’s sister. Endometrial cancer has an 88 to 90 percent cure rate if caught in early stages. Some of the most common symptoms are unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge after menopause.
Dr. Patricia Groven, who goes by Pat, had a long career as an educator, first as an elementary teacher, then as a special education teacher. After receiving her doctorate in educational leadership, she served as a regional director of special education in southeast North Dakota.
Pat and her husband Dennis enjoyed hunting, camping, boating and kayaking together. A distance runner, Pat stepped up her races after retirement. She has successfully completed eight half-marathons, a distance of 13.1 miles.
In 2020, the couple moved to Fargo from Hankinson, N.D., to be closer to family and take advantage of the medical system.
For some years, Dennis struggled with cancer. He completed successful treatment for bladder cancer, including three internal surgeries. Later he underwent radiation treatment for cancer on his neck and tongue. He was subject to pneumonia infections, loss of muscle control and memory loss.
In the fall of 2020, at the age of 75, Pat experienced some vaginal bleeding.
“Then it went away,” she said. “Everything was fine. Normal.”
In 2021, however, the bleeding returned, and she went to her primary caregiver to have it checked.
Her caregiver was concerned.
“I was hoping you would say this was normal,” Pat said.
The doctor responded by asking whether she would prefer a male or female ob-gyn.
Pat received a D and C and an inside-the-womb ultrasound. The images revealed a tumor. She was referred to Dr. Maria Bell, an oncologist in Sioux Falls, S.D., who was associated with Essentia Health in Fargo.
“I was surprised that they called me almost immediately,” Pat said. “Sometimes the medical profession moves fast.”
Pat scheduled surgery for April 23 in Sioux Falls. On April 22, she drove the 243 miles to Sioux Falls along with her two sisters.
“We had fun on the way down,” Pat said. “My sisters came with me to the consultation, so I had copious backup. We had supper at a nice restaurant.”
The next morning, the surgeon used buttonhole surgery aided by robots to perform a total hysterectomy, removing Pat’s uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes and ovaries.
Pat had hoped that the surgery would take care of the cancer. Unfortunately, the biopsy showed that the cancer had embedded itself in the muscle tissue surrounding the uterus.
The trip back to Fargo, with one of her sisters driving, was not as much fun.
“I didn’t want to eat anything, I was in pain, I was out of sorts,” Pat said. “I was figuring I would receive chemo eventually. But at that point, I didn’t know whether I wanted it or not. I had no option except to get in the back seat and be moody.”
It took a little more than two weeks of staying home and keeping a pillow over her stomach before the effects of the surgery cleared up. At that point, Pat scheduled an appointment in Fargo on May 27 to discuss follow-up options.
Pat took Dennis with her to the appointment, even though he wasn’t capable of helping with the decision.
“It was important that I be able to tell him that he’d been there when he had questions later on,” she said.
Along with her medical team, Pat decided to go ahead with chemo treatment. She underwent a CT scan that helped them determine the details of the treatment.
Even though it would prolong the treatment, Pat decided to be part of a research study concurrent with her treatment.
“If you’re capable of being in research, you should be in research,” she said. “Everybody needs to find out as much as they can. I was eligible for the research study because I was basically healthy, and I did have cancer.”
The next day, Dr. Armit Panwalker, a radiologist, advised Pat that if she chose, she could receive a treatment that would prevent hair loss.
Pat considered the option, “Not because of vanity, but because I knew Dennis would be really worried when I lost my hair.”
The treatment involved freezing her head with a device that was something like a swim cap.
“I’m not going to kid with you. It’s cold,” the radiologist said.
That settled it. Pat would do without her hair.
On June 20, Pat and Dennis’s families gathered at Stump Lake near Devils Lake, N.D., to celebrate Dennis’s 80th birthday. Shortly after that, Dennis was hospitalized. Frequent falling was among his symptoms.
With taking care of herself, her house and Dennis, Pat’s calendar was very full. She started chemotherapy on June 25.
“I kind of liked chemotherapy treatment day,” she said. “They gave me lunch, I took a nap, I read. They’d give me a foot massage if I wanted one.”
Pat’s treatment at the Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center in Fargo began at 8:30 in the morning and sometimes continued past 5 in the afternoon.
“Sometimes even the volunteers had gone home before I left,” she said.
She noticed how careful the staff was to be masked, gloved and gowned as they accessed her port and put in the tubes.
“Chemo’s very poisonous,” she said.
Anti-nausea meds that went into her port worked to prevent nausea. However, she said, “When that anti-nausea solution went into my bloodstream, it just about froze you out.”
After chemo treatments, Pat experienced a temporary energy burst and was able to go on 2-mile walks for about three days afterwards.
On July 8, Pat had her hairstylist cut her hair in a pixie style.
“I lost it just about immediately afterwards,” she said. “When I dust-mopped the room, I had enough hair to make a small cat.”
However, she was doing well, keeping her weight up, and the hair loss was expected.
“I thought about not wearing hats, because cancer is so prevalent,” she said. “But when people came up to me and said a prayer for me, I found that intrusive. So I started wearing hats.”
Dennis was able to make his wishes known at the hospital, enough to convince Pat that he needed home hospice care.
Pat had help from her daughter, her sons and daughters-in-law, the hospice organization, other relatives and friends. But the burden of caring for her husband of 53 years fell largely on her.
August was a tough month.
“I was tired all the time,” she said. “I could cook for myself and everything, but …”
Dennis passed away on Aug. 9. His funeral was Aug. 13. A Navy veteran, he was buried in Fargo National Cemetery.
On Sept. 14, Pat tried to go on a 5K Walk for Alzheimer’s. A 5K is about three miles.
“I made it about a mile and a half,” she said.
On Sept. 25, she went with family members on a camping trip to Icelandic State Park.
“I fell over backwards,” she said. “You know, I never had nausea, but neuropathy was a problem.”
According to Internet sources, “Peripheral neuropathy, a result of damage to the nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord (peripheral nerves), often causes weakness, numbness and pain, usually in the hands and feet.”
Pat received her last chemo treatment on Oct. 5.
She had considered not following up with radiation, but radiologist Dr. Ash Jensen, advised her that radiation increases the chances of the cancer not coming back.
On Oct. 27, Pat began radiation treatment, which went on five days a week for six weeks.
Her CT Scan on Dec. 6 showed no disease present.
Pat continued her research infusions every six weeks through May 26, 2022. She was remunerated for all the research infusions at the rate of $65 per session.
On May 20, Pat walked a 3K race in 58.02 minutes. She plans to walk in another one on Oct. 8.