Making His Years Count

Exceptional care during cancer battles separated by nearly two decades compels Frank Clark to give back

Tonya sits next to her dad in a recliner, her hand is on his arm.During the last twenty years, Frank Clark and his family have seen much more of the oncology unit at Mary Greeley Medical Center than they had hoped to. That is often the case when you wage two fights with Stage IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma—with a bladder cancer battle thrown between.

Frank, who will turn 90 in the fall of 2022, was first diagnosed with lymphoma in 1999. A native of the north Iowa town of Ventura, he chose to receive care at Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames. With his daughter, Tanya Anderson, living in town combined with the convenient access to the providers of the William R. Bliss Cancer Center, the decision made sense.

“It was only in my spine,” Frank recalls of the cancer. “It was Stage IV, and the treatment for that was rough, but I came out of it. I was okay for the most part, but I was a little nervous about it coming back again.”

Several health issues, including damage to the nerves in his legs and arms from the cancer treatment, the occurrence of bladder cancer, heart and kidney issues and more popped up in the ensuing years, and Frank managed to weather them all. Tanya says his fighting spirit carried him through each twist and turn.

In 2018, Frank was faced with his biggest battle yet: The return of his lymphoma.

“I knew that something wasn’t right, but I didn’t realize the cancer had returned until it had gotten a good start,” Frank says. “I don’t remember exactly how many times I was in and out of the hospital for treatment, but I spent a total of three-and-a-half months in there between June and December.”

Tanya says helping care for Frank during the time was made much more comfortable by access to a Burke Family Suite. First introduced in 1993 as a single room on the medical center’s old oncology unit, the suite was designed to provide families a space to unwind during the often long and grueling inpatient stay of their loved one. When the new patient tower at Mary Greeley Medical Center opened in 2014, it included three Burke Family Suites on the dedicated oncology unit. Each unit is designed with a common space, bed and even a kitchenette.

“One of us was there with him all the time, day and night,” Tanya says of herself and her two sisters. “It was nice to be able to have a place to get away and just let Dad rest. We could chat, relax, and recharge. It was the perfect environment for us as family members.”

The excellent care Frank received from his medical oncologist Venkatesh Rudrapatna, MD was supplemented by a dedicated group of physicians including Jason Rasmussen, MD, David Carlyle, MD, Damon Dyche, MD, Jeremy Fields, MD, and Dan Fulton, MD, all of whom did rounds during his various hospital stays. Frank says they were all a “vested part of the team that saved him.”

The work of those physicians, combined with the compassion delivered by the care team on the oncology unit and access to offerings like the Burke Family Suites and Hunziker Room – a spot for patients and family members to grab a quick snack, a hot blanket, or a number of other convenience items – encouraged Frank to make a gift to the Mary Greeley Foundation in support of cancer care.

“Giving back was a two-way deal,” Frank says. “I think about what the doctors learned from treating me. They are always learning, and I hope that they can apply what they learned from me to helping someone else. I want to support that. That is why I wanted to give a gift.”

“It was also beneficial for me,” Frank says. “Giving a gift of stocks that had grown helped my tax situation. I’ve held a lot of good stocks for a long time, and it made more sense for me to donate those to an organization who could use the funds rather than selling them and paying a high tax rate on them.”

Frank’s gift was given without restrictions, with the hope it would be used to support cancer care in the area of greatest need. Tanya says finding a win-win is typical of her dad.

“When he told us he wanted to do something like this, we were very supportive,” Tanya says. “The care team gave him more years and whatever he can do to pay that forward we are behind.”

“I’m almost 90,” Frank adds. “I’ve lived a tremendously good life. I have wonderful kids, grandkids, and great grandkids. The care I received helped me be here for one more of those great grandkids. I got 19 extra years after the first time. And I’m ready to get 19 more after the most recent time.”

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