By Emily Fedor
At the home of the Dougherty family, there are over 200 thank you cards sitting on the kitchen table. Each card is for a person who has helped the family “put one foot in front of the other” over the past nine months.
Patrick Dougherty, 19, graduated from Dunmore High School as part of the Class of 2016. But Patrick wasn’t able to attend commencement in June. Instead, he was recovering from an extensive surgical procedure at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
“This isn’t the gown I should be wearing,” he said to his mother.
It was a snowy Saturday evening on January 23, 2016. Patrick had been vomiting daily since September, and he’d been experiencing excruciating back pain for the two months leading up to that night. The pain had progressively gotten worse–making it’s way down his back to his legs.
Karen Dougherty watched as her husband Jerry walked to the car, carrying their youngest son in his arms. Once settled, it was off to the emergency room.
They didn’t have to wait long for a doctor to examine Patrick at Moses Taylor Hospital that night. Karen, Jerry and Pat sat in the emergency room, waiting to hear everything was fine and that they could go home.
But at 9:18 p.m, their world was turned upside down. Patrick was diagnosed with testicular cancer with metastasis to his spine.
“Our whole world changed that night,” said Patrick’s mother, Karen. “It was the innermost raw emotions you could ever feel, and the worst part about it is we couldn’t help him feel better. As parents, that’s the most horrific feeling.”
By midnight, Patrick’s older brother Jerry and many of his extended family members were at his bedside–trying to comprehend the news they never saw coming.
Three days later, Patrick was being prepped for an orchiectomy at Moses Taylor to remove his left testicle in an effort to stop the cancer in its tracks.
In the weeks that followed, Patrick went through four rounds of chemotherapy while his fellow DHS classmates were enjoying their senior year.
“He missed his entire senior year,” Karen said. “ He’s had to miss some of the happiest points of his life–class night, graduation, senior week at the shore. Everything that should have been a fun thing, was not fun at all”.
Days before graduation, Patrick and his family traveled to New York, where he was scheduled to have a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection—a procedure involving the removal of lymph nodes in an effort to treat testicular cancer.
Doctors made a cut that began at Patrick’s sternum and ended right above his bladder. For eight and a half hours, they worked to dissect the tumor that was inside of him. Patrick was kept at Sloan for 10 days following his surgery, and unfortunately, that wouldn’t be his last hospital stay.
In July, the 19-year-old underwent a thoracotomy to remove more of the tumor in his chest. And just last month, doctors had to open Patrick up for the fourth time in order to stabilize his back. In some areas, they inserted rods and screws, while other spots the cancer ate away had to be cemented.
“He is the strongest kid I know…” Karen said. “Through everything, he has never ever complained about anything. He goes along with whatever doctor’s appointments, procedures, surgeries and pain daily… He is my hero.”
While Patrick has come far in his fight with cancer, the battle is not won yet. College plans are on hold while he recovers from his last surgery and takes the next step in his treatment plan—10 to 12 rounds of radiation on his back to rid his body of any lingering cancer cells. And luckily for the Doughertys, this treatment can be done locally at the Northeast Radiation Oncology Center in Dunmore.
The support of friends, family, the community of Dunmore and beyond has been the light at the end of the tunnel for the Dougherty family.
A multitude of fundraisers have helped offset some of the financial burden that has come with Patrick’s surgeries and treatments. From the the t-shirt fundraiser sponsored by Depietro’s Pharmacy to the DHS Spanish Club’s 5K fundraiser to the community motorcycle ride spearheaded by the owners of the Bar at the Patch, Karen said her family can’t begin to put their gratitude into words.
Karen said the family is also beyond thankful for all of the doctors and surgeons who have worked with Patrick, their friends in New York who opened their home to them during Patrick’s stays at Sloan, the students and faculty at Dunmore High School—especially Patrick’s homeschool teacher Kaitlyn Beavans–their family’s places of employment—Northeastern Eye and DaVita Dialysis—Patrick’s friends who have spent hours sitting as his bedside and everyone else who has helped the family get through each day.
“There have been meals dropped off at our house when the last thing we were thinking of was eating. Someone came over and did my laundry,” said Karen. “It’s been completely phenomenal how our family, our friends, our friends’ friends and the borough have embraced Patrick.”
With no history of testicular cancer in their family, the Doughertys never considered that could be the cause of Patrick’s pain all those months ago. They wish they never had to hear the doctors utter the word “cancer” on that snowy January night, but in the end, this journey has strengthened the family bond between Jerry, Karen, Jerry and Patrick.
After surviving these past nine months, Patrick’s mom now says that when people ask her if there is anything they can do, she only has one request:
“If you have children, hug them longer and harder because you never know.”