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Doctor and survivor now takes time to playOriginally Published August 25, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated August 24, 2013 at 4:05 p.m.
Dr. Brenda Ketcher of South Central Gastroenterology and Endoscopy was honored at the annual gala benefit for the Garland County Chapter of the American Cancer Society at The Regency downtown. Along with being a physician whose work includes the search for cancer among her patients, she is also as a cancer survivor who only recently was told her cancer is gone.
People were playing and having fun in Hot Springs on the night of Aug. 11. It was all for a good cause, and the play made an important point.
The event was the annual gala benefit for the Garland County Chapter of the American Cancer Society at The Regency downtown. The gala honored Dr. Brenda Ketcher of South Central Gastroenterology and Endoscopy as a physician whose work includes the search for cancer among her patients, but also as a cancer survivor who only recently was told her cancer is gone.
“How sweet the sound, when my doctor told me, ‘I think you’re cured,’” said Ketcher, who was honorary chairwoman of the cancer society’s event. “He said it softly, without fanfare.”
Ketcher told the 300 or so people who attended the gala that she was there representing those being honored by the party — people with cancer in Hot Springs.
She said survivors like herself, and those fighting cancer today, are the recipients of years of research and improvements in care that will give more people the opportunity to hear their doctors say the cancer is gone.
Ketcher was diagnosed with breast cancer in
August 2012 and, since then, has undergone three surgeries, four weeks of chemotherapy and 33 radiation treatments. In late July, she finished three treatments of a relatively new drug produced using recombinant DNA technology. However, she said that with her knowledge as a physician and with the help of her doctors, she stayed positive with the belief that she would beat her cancer.
“In my work with endoscopy, we used to find cancer twice a month with my patients, but now we are seeing it a couple times a week,” she said. “So my initial reaction was not ‘Why me?’ but rather, ‘Why not me?’”
She said doctors find more cancer because more people are looking for it, and the way they look is always getting better.
“Family practitioners now push to have people evaluated by specialists faster, and imaging technologies are better,” Ketcher said. “[Chemotherapy] is more streamlined today. Each cancer patient is a blueprint for the next generation of care.”
The purpose of the event, with the theme of Summer in Hot Springs — Las Vegas Style, was to raise funds for the American Cancer Society’s support of medical research and to support care efforts in Garland County and around the nation.
Ketcher said she may have first gotten her interest in providing care for the sick when she began to take care of her mother, who has heart disease and arthritis.
“I also used to play in the swamp behind our
duplex in Baltimore, where I began to love science,” she said.
Her father worked at an automobile plant, and when Ketcher finished high school, she said her parents said they could not afford to pay for her room and board at college, even after she earned an academic scholarship that provided tuition.
“Instead, I went to work for an insurance agent and then got married,” she said.
Ketcher moved to Little Rock and found that she liked Arkansas.
She opened a men’s formalwear business that she ran for more than five years.
“It was a family thing with my sister and her husband, and we operated three stores and a warehouse,” Ketcher said. “But when I became pregnant, I realized the clothing business was not a good fit for me, and when my daughter Katie was born, I stayed home for five years as a treat to myself.”
When her daughter went to kindergarten, Ketcher went to college, attending the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as a science major. Even before graduation, she was accepted to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Medicine.
“When I went to college, I was older doing everything,” she said. “Maybe I was more serious in my studies. When I became a physician, it encompassed a lot of my life, and I worked long hours.”
Before her residency, she studied gastroenterology and selected that field as her speciality.
“It is a very broad field, covering seven organs of the body,” Ketcher said. “We sedate our patients so they feel nothing, and I don’t have to stick in a needle blindly, or have to wear lead.”
The doctor also enjoys her work in endoscopy because she gets to know her patients.
“We talk, and people share. I get into their head; I get to touch them. Then I look inside them,” Ketcher said. “I love getting to know their history and their lives — then there is the science.”
Even as a physician, Ketcher said, when she found out she had cancer, she realized she would have to give up some of her control. It was quite an adjustment for a doctor. She worried that she would lose her patients, but that didn’t happen.
“I wondered, ‘Why would they trust my judgement?’ and ‘How can someone who is sick take care of their patients?’” she said. “It was remarkable the outpouring of care and trust I received. I went from a caregiver to a recipient of care.”
Ketcher said that her greatest supporter was her sister, who told Ketcher a quote about real friendship.
“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words,” she said. “Through the battle with cancer, I learned I have a choir of friends, family, colleagues, patients and others. I was on so many prayer lists, and people showed me how they cared every day.”
During the night of the gala, people came up to her and asked how to get better. Dr. Ketcher’s prescription was to have a positive attitude and do everything their doctors said.
“I tried not to be negative,”Ketcher said. “I could keep from being sad, but I could not handle the grief of others for me.”
As her treatment continued, she began to lose her hair.
“One morning I said, ‘Today, I will shave my head,’ and we did it outside and threw the hair off the deck for the birds to use for their nests,” Ketcher said. “I got wigs of different colors, and the people at the office called me different names for every color. When I was a redhead, they called me Gigi. I did not let the side effects of my treatments become the center of my life.”
With a new outlook and health, Ketcher said, it was time to play.
“I had worked so many hours before and never had time to play,” she said.
The doctor now dances to music in her procedure room. There is even a glittering disco ball in the room. She has changed many of her habits.
“I have lived on the lake for 18 years and never had time to get out on it,” Ketcher said. “Now I have a party barge, and I was out on the lake before coming to the office. It’s nice to have coffee on the water in the morning.”
The idea of play was the center of the American Cancer Society gala with its Las Vegas theme, she said.
The doctor is still committed to her practice and said she now has a new awareness of her patients’ pain.
As part of her life, there is now time to play, especially if it can help others.
Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be contact at (501) 244-4460 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or email@example.com.