Fathers Fighting Cancer

Cancer Survivor excitedly gets to ring survivors bell (Photo by Erin Rogers | TXK Today)

We tend to think of heroes as those Marvel characters who wear a uniform and fight crime; however, here in Texarkana, there are some not-so-average men fighting not crime, but cancer.  The work day in and day out to ensure they can provide the best quality of care for their patients.  They sacrifice time to improve our community and represent their families well.  They are real life superheroes for our community.

Cancer Director, Gary Upp began his career in Springfield, Ohio.  He worked four years to build a cancer program there from the ground up, but during the housing bubble in 2008, the hospital lost over $25million two years in a row and Upp had to seek opportunity elsewhere.

Christus St. Michael Cancer Director, Gary Upp
(Photo by Erin Rogers | TXK Today)

“I had the chance to come back to Texarkana where all my kids and 10 grandchildren are.  Christus has been a blessing because it’s so God focused.  It really is the healing ministry of God.”  Upp has now been with St. Michael for ten years.

“My passion has always been to make it as easy as possible for patients to go through.  That is a difficult thing to do.  I have always taken advantage of seminars, but I have also been involved with the rsk type of things too. I had to figure out how to design the program.”

He continued, “ We had a chemo department but no medical oncologist on staff when I started.  So the focus has always been on what the community’s needs are and how do we meet those needs.  We will always take care of patients regardless of their ability to pay too.”

“The next step was to bring in a medical oncologist, so wwe brought in Dr. Hazin and we are recruiting another physician to help him.  After that, the next big successful thing was bringing in Yolanda.  She was a diamond in the rough!  I wanted to get a person who can run this survivorship program that we offer.  We tell patients, you are a survivor from the moment of diagnosis.  She takes a personal interest in the patient and knows the survivor from the beginning and makes the program so meaningful, while also providing expertise advise.”

Upp really aims to create a center where all cancer services can be provided in one environment.

There was a moment of silence.

“My grandson that passed away had just turned 4 years old.  That was at St. Jude’s and they’ve developed a great support group for kids with brain cancer and I don’t know where my daughter would be without that support.”

Grandson who suffered from brain cancer and daughter of Gary Upps, Cancer Director at CHRISTUS St. Michael
(Photo by Allison Rodgers Photography)

Prior to losing his grandson, Upp lost his first wife to cancer, leaving us to think- How much can one man endure? He looks forward and works harder, thinking how he can improve the lives of others.  He created a highly trained staff and top-rate cancer programs for his department.

“Our cancer center is a diamond in the rough.  People don’t realize our potential and don’t realize what all we really have to offer here.  The resources that we have available here are unlike anything around here.  We have tv monitors with cancer infomation, bedside tablets so patients can browse or watch a movie while receiving chemo.  We have a heart for these people and families.”

Upp couldn’t run his program without Superdad, Dr. Hesham Hazin, M.D., Medical Oncologist and Hematologist with CHRISTUS St. Michael Oncology Clinic; Medical Director of the W. Temple Webber Cancer Center at CHRISTUS St. Michael.  Dr. Hazin joined in 2015 and helps pave the way for cancer treatment in the greater Texarkana area.

Dr. Hazin and nurse.

“I received my training in Brooklyn, New York at New York Methodist Hospital , affiliated with Cornell University and basically transferred here to Texarkana. The field is always here and interesting and changing, it’s never ever stagnant or stale.  As far as the gratitude and appreciation of survivors is amazing.”

Hematology focuses on blood disorders and oncology is the study of cancer, so they can go hand in hand sometimes. He primarily sees patients with cancer, most commonly lung, breast, prostate, and brain.

May was national Brain Cancer Awareness Month and CHRISTUS St. Michael Health Systems hosted their annual balloon release to commemorate those lots to cancer, the survivors, and everyone who has been affected by cancer in some way.

Some of the symptoms of brain cancer are headache, numbness or tingling in extremities or face, and weakness.  Another thing it can present is dizziness , vertigo, and some visual changes and can pretty much affect all over the body. Some spinal or neurological cancers usually happen in younger adults, but most the common age is 50s. Dr. Hazin explains that primary brain cancers rarely spread, sometimes they can go to the spinal cord but it is very rare.

The survival rate of brain cancer, and any cancer, depends on the state of the disease.  “We look at the size and the aggressiveness of the disease. One common misconception is that it is always deadly, but actually people with brain cancer live longer than those with stomach. On average they can survive 18-20 months, sometimes beyond that.”

“One of the most common misconceptions is everyone thinks the cell phones, microwaves, or aspartame is the  cause of brain cancer ,  I think the use of those technologies started mostly in the 1980s, but we have been diagnosing Brain cancers since earlier than the 70’s.  

Dr. Hazin emphasized that there are only three risk factors for brain cancer.

  1. Age: The older the immune system becomes, the more it is weakened.  
  2. Genetics: Such as family history, these are the types of cancer that you are born with or inherit. For someone who has a breast cancer under 50, those are the ones who have genetic mutations; usually if the individual is above 50 years old it is spontaneous. Our genetic counselor, Tammy, can test for those here at St. Michael Hospital.
  3. Radiation:  If you received radiation in the past for a previous cancer.

“ It is important to not smoke and take care of yourself, to know yourself, have a Primary Care Physician and get regular check ups, most importantly get insurance. We have a great team to see and take care of those affected; we have team for testing and genetic counseling and screening.  In terms of other services we offer, CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System has a radiation therapy that is given outside of standard radiation.  
This is one of the best social systems I’ve been with and is top notch.”  

Provided by CHRISTUS St. Michael

Radiotherapy is the standard treatment they use for the vast majority of primary and secondary brain tumors.  CHRISTUS St. Michaels offers stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) and also intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), similar to major medical centers located hours away.  SRS precisely targets small brain tumors with a single definitive and ablative treatment.  IMRT shapes and optimizes the dose to large or numerous brain tumors over several weeks.  This modality shrinks and controls brain tumors while sparing the hippocampus to improve survival and preserve memory.

Currently, the cancer center is also equipped with two linear accelerators, providing thousands of radiation therapy treatments annually for cancer patients with various diagnoses including breast, lung, ovarian, and prostate cancer. Utilized to treat all body sites with what is known as External Beam Radiation Therapy, the linear accelerators are coupled with modalities such as Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), Image Guided Radiation Therapy, Stereotactic Radiosurgery and Stereotactic Body Radio-Therapy to provide increased levels of precision and power for treatment of tumors.

The W. Temple Webber Cancer Center will install a Varian Tru-Beam linear accelerator with Rapid Arc Technology and Body Surface Imaging to replace the existing Varian 2300 EX Linear Accelerator. The installation will require $3 million, an investment that will provide technology to significantly decrease in treatment time, resulting in more comfort for patients.

Therapy and cancer assistance goes beyond the specialized treatment that patients receive, most notably its the relationships that are made during their care.  Dr. Hazin remembers one patient who really resonated with him.

“There was a gentleman here diagnosed with brain cancer, he was supervisor in a factory in Arkansas.  Every single day all he wanted to do was to go back to work.  He just feels for his job and was dedicated to his job.   It shows the passion he had and that can help you overlook the cancer and get back to fighting.  It was really impressive to see.”

His passion is undeniable, obvious in his depth of knowledge, dedication, and exhibition of sincerity. “Science is beautiful to me , it’s like an art, every single case is a challenging case and I am always up that challenge.”


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