Cancer Patient Prepares For Surgery As Coronavirus Restrictions Begin To Lift

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James Nauen (Courtesy Sam Ogden/Dana-Farber Cancer Institute)
James Nauen (Courtesy Sam Ogden/Dana-Farber Cancer Institute)

This week, the state entered phase two of its reopening plan, which will begin loosening restrictions on both routine and elective care in hospitals.

That means Jim Nauen of Newton and his wife Kim can finally prepare for Jim's much-needed surgery for colorectal cancer.

Nauen was first diagnosed four years ago at age 49. Then, in December of 2019, his doctors at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute discovered the cancer had returned. They hoped to perform surgery in March to remove a cancerous tumor, but had to postpone the operation as the coronavirus was entering its peak.

Finally, Nauen has been given the green light for surgery. It'll happen Monday at Brigham and Women's Hospital. The Nauens spoke with WBUR's All Things Considered about how the pandemic has affected his cancer treatment.

Here are highlights of the interview, lightly edited for clarity.

Interview Highlights

Jim's cancer

Jim Nauen with his wife Kim and their two daughters. (Courtesy Jim Nauen)
Jim Nauen with his wife Kim and their two daughters. (Courtesy Jim Nauen)

Jim: I was diagnosed in March of 2016. Since then, I've had 40-plus chemo treatments. I've had 20 radiation treatments, two surgeries, about to have my third on Monday. So it's been a pretty long four years of battling this cancer. It was not unexpected, but extremely disappointing to know that after all we've gone through, we had a reoccurrence in the same region in early December 2019. Well, not only did I get the news that I was rediagnosed with the cancer, we had a new tumor growing also that was considered inoperable at that time.

I started chemo and then in March, I was rescanned after eight or 10 treatments, chemo treatments and that particular cycle. So that scan came back with both good news and bad news. The good news was that the tumor had shrunk to the point where they felt confident they could go in and remove it and tissue around it and come out with negative margins. The bad news was they had no idea when they could do it.

Jim: Although it didn't feel elective to me, it's considered an elective surgery and they couldn't schedule it. So it was like, OK, maybe May. Then you wait a couple of weeks and OK, maybe June. You wait a couple more weeks and it'd be like, OK, maybe July. right? The date kept pushing. And the gamble is that the tumor and cancer cells become resistant to the chemo, which happens at some point, and starts ignoring the fact that you're under chemotherapy and growing again. It would grow back to a stage where it wasn't operable.

Kim: You feel like you're racing the clock. You're praying that, you know, we'll be able to get an up surgery date that comes before the time that the chemo stops working. Our house becomes really a quarantine zone. We didn't allow anybody in or out. And everybody stayed at home. And that's just how we've been for the last three months.

Jim: We've been very careful.

Jim Nauen has become a champion of colorectal cancer screening before age 50, as incidence rates are increasing in young and middle-age populations.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the timeframe for Jim Nauen's surgery. The post has been updated. We regret the error.

This article was originally published on June 12, 2020.

This segment aired on June 12, 2020.


Lisa Mullins Host, All Things Considered
Lisa Mullins is the voice of WBUR’s All Things Considered. She anchors the program, conducts interviews and reports from the field.


Khari Thompson Producer, Radio Boston
Khari Thompson is a producer for Radio Boston.



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