RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A central North Carolina woman recently got a chance to meet the radiologist she credits with saving her life. After months without answers, she says he spotted an extremely rare and aggressive form of cancer.
“Had it not been for your sharp eye, this would be a different story,” Anna Gurney told Dr. Kevin Kalisz, as the two met for the first time inside the Duke Cancer Center.
This kind of meeting is rare. Radiologists know their patients by their scans, but rarely see them in person. “Of course we see everything about them, except their face,” noted Kalisz, a radiologist at Duke Health.
When Anna Gurney’s scan landed on Kalisz’s desk, she was desperate to find out what was causing episodes of severe pain. Previous scans, trips to the hospital, and visits to specialists had yielded no answers.
“No one could really see what was causing it,” Gurney explained. “So they ran another test, ran another test, ran another test.”
When Kalisz saw the images, though, he noticed a tiny area that didn’t look quite right.
“The measurement was barely over a centimeter,” he said, pointing to a small white area on an image from a CT scan.
“He’s the one that spotted it, and you know he’s the one that raised the red flag and said someone in oncology needs to take a look at this. This could be appendix cancer,” Gurney recalled.
An oncologist later confirmed Gurney had goblet cell adenocarcinoma, an aggressive form of appendix cancer. It was a diagnosis she could never have imagined.
“I had never heard of appendix cancer,” she explained.
According to the National Cancer Institute, appendix cancer only affects one to two people per million every year in the U.S.
“Every time I run into somebody that’s in the medical field I ask them, ‘Have you ever heard of appendix cancer? Do you know of anybody that’s ever had one?'” Gurney said. “Almost always the answer is ‘No. I didn’t even know there was such a thing.'”
Even Kalisz, who is used to dealing with rare diseases, says this type of cancer is particularly unusual.
“I’ll probably not see one for the rest of the year—I guarantee you,” he added.
Both doctor and patient are thankful he noticed this one. What Kalisz spotted in Gurney’s scans gave her the chance for treatment and recovery. She had her appendix removed, as well as part of her colon. She is currently doing well with no evidence of disease.
“There will just never ever be enough words for me to share my appreciation for him just having that expert eye,” Gurney said through tears. “It’s our feeling that he saved my life.”
After her husband wrote a letter thanking Kalisz, Gurney asked if she’d be able to thank him in person. There were smiles and tears as the two met at Duke Hospital earlier this month.
“It is so awesome to meet you,” Gurney told the doctor, as they embraced. “I just want to say thank you, a thousand times thank you. You saved my life.”
“I think the whole team saved it,” Kalisz graciously responded.
Gurney hopes her story will make a difference for others. She is passionate about raising awareness of rare diseases and encourages people who are concerned aboutt their health to keep searching for answers.
“If you feel like something is wrong with your body or you’re not feeling right, keep pushing,” she urged. “Just keep asking questions.”
After all, someone may have the answer that could save your life.