Diagnosed with colorectal cancer Kimberly “Kim” Parker, a former college administrator, took the advice of others and became a patient of Dr. Michael House who specializes in surgical oncology.
“What are you doing here? You’re so young.”
It wasn’t exactly what Kimberly “Kim” Parker wanted to hear. But she knew it was true. She was 38 and she was sitting in the office of a proctologist, a doctor who specializes in disorders of the anus, rectum, and colon.
She had been having abnormal bleeding and an initial screening returned a diagnosis of a fissure. She went home with some topical cream but when her condition didn’t change, she returned to her doctor. A colonoscopy was ordered and she heard the news from surgeons: She has colorectal cancer. It was a year ago this month.
She started chemotherapy and radiation at another hospital but things didn’t go as planned. She was diagnosed with a dihydropyrimidine dehydrogenase deficiency (DPD). Chemotherapy drugs build up in the body and result in severe side effects in patients with DPD. Twenty-four hours before she was scheduled for an abdominoperineal resection (APR) to remove the cancerous area, surgery was canceled. A scan showed spots on her liver.
“The doctors were at a loss. This changed everything,” said Parker. There was talk of contacting a doctor at IU Health and then there was more talk from other people – to contact the same doctor. His name was Dr. Michael House – who specializes in surgical oncology. Specifically, Dr. House’s clinical interests are focused on surgical oncology including the management of primary and secondary hepatic neoplasms, bile duct tumors, benign and malignant diseases of the pancreas, gastric cancer, and sarcoma. He is a principal or co-investigator of eight clinical studies and trials at IU School of Medicine, and is co-director of the IU Health Pancreatic Cancer Program.
Parker, the mother of daughters Cora, 10 and Molly, 8 has been married to Andrew Parker for 16 years. They met while studying at Milligan College, a Christian liberal arts college in upper east Tennessee. Parker studied human relations with a leadership minor and went on to obtain her masters in divinity. After graduation she worked at her alma mater in student development with a focus on student activities and campus life. She went on to work at Indiana Wesleyan University in student affairs where her husband serves as associate vice president and dean of students.
After more than a decade working in student development, Kim Parker wanted to spend more time with her two daughters so she developed a spiritual direction practice that offered more flexibility with her work schedule. Her experience with contemplative retreats, yoga, and personal development has helped her navigate a diagnosis that she never expected in her 30s.
“Throughout this journey, I am continually confronted by two realities—the fragility of life and the strength of love and community. Life can change in an instant and it is only through the love and support of those in your ‘village’ that we can walk through adversity in a healthy and successful manner,” said Andrew Parker. “Amidst the uncertainty, the unknowing, she maintains hope and is able to see beauty and wonder in the world around her.”
The day Kim Parker called Dr. House he was getting ready to join his family on a spring trip to Disney World. But he had an opening, and Parker got in. He suggested two surgeries at once – one rectal and one liver. She was told she had about a four percent chance it would not be a success.
“I immediately had a good feeling about Dr. House so I switched to IU Health,” said Parker. IU Health’s Dr. Paul Helft serves as her oncologist.
“Dr. Helft was also a large reason why I switched to IU Health,” said Parker. “When I met him the first time, I was very impressed with his interpersonal interaction and emotional intelligence. He felt as much like a therapist as a doctor to me. His depth of care was like none I had ever experienced from a doctor. Both Dr. Helft and Dr. House have been pivotal parts of my journey and care.”
Her surgery resulted in a bile leak, and another spot of cancer was found on her liver that was removed during the procedure.
“I healed up from that and focused on a plan to go back to chemotherapy. But then they found more spots on my lungs. I can’t do surgery at this point, so my oncologist has indicated that we’re essentially trying to buy time with the chemotherapy,” said Parker. But she remains hopeful. A recent scan showed no more growths in the pelvis and abdomen and the lung spots are stable.
“I think I made the best decision to come to Dr. House. Everyone was right,” said Parker. “He knows his stuff – is super knowledgeable and wants to do the best for his patients. He does it so sacrificially. He even called me from Disney World to see how I felt. He’s very positive and optimistic. That’s exactly what I need right now.”
Her family and spirituality have kept her facing forward. In addition to her daughters and husband, her mom and dad – Linda and Don Becker – have been critical to her support system.
“I think the biggest thing I keep coming back to that centers me and grounds me is first of all I think my own underlying faith and spirituality give me a sense of knowing I’m not alone and to trust in that,” said Parker. “And to trust enough to be present in the moment I’m in. At this point that’s all you have. You don’t realize until you go through something like this how rich you are – what you have every second of the day so I try to relish the moment and all the gifts it has to offer. That’s the best way I’ve learned to make each day happen.”
— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email email@example.com.