HSC president, late SRPH department head share experiences with cancer as a physician, scientist and patient to community

August 30, 2009

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our dear friend and colleague.
K.C. put up a valiant fight but finally lost his 18 month battle with esophageal cancer on July 1, 2009 with his family at his side.

It’s just another day, but everything has changed. That’s how it feels to hear the words, “You have cancer.”

While devastating news, it can be the beginning of a journey of chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries in hopes of healing. And for healers who have cancer themselves, there is a particular insight no others have. That insight was offered July 1 at Christ United Methodist Church with words of wisdom from the Texas A&M Health Science Center president and HSC-School of Rural Public Health environmental and occupational health department head about their personal battles with cancer.

Nancy W. Dickey, M.D., president of the Texas A&M Health Science Center and vice chancellor for health affairs for The Texas A&M University System, and the late K.C. Donnelly, Ph.D., head and professor of environmental and occupational health in the HSC-School of Rural Public Health, presented “In Their Own Words” – experiencing cancer as a physician, scientist and patient.

Initially diagnosed with esophageal cancer that had spread elsewhere in his body, Dr. Donnelly was unable to attend. A video from his hospital bed offered his personal story to 300 people from the HSC community and throughout the Brazos Valley. He passed away less than an hour after the presentation concluded.

Diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, Dr. Dickey gave an overview of cancer, various types, U.S. rates, causes (lifestyle, occupational, environmental, genetic), symptoms and detection. She pointed to Dr. Donnelly’s slides and also discussed treatments (chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, experimental, other therapies) and preventative measures (lifestyle, exercise, occupational-environmental exposure, stress).

When faced with cancer, Dr. Dickey recommends forming a tight group of family, friends, doctors and nurses and to research before making decisions. Then, learn about your specific treatments and medication and know when it’s time to move from cure to comfort (hospice care).

“Embrace and enjoy life, as cancer reminds us that life is short for all of us,” Dr. Dickey said. “Take it one step at a time – to look at the entire journey is too daunting. You are in control. You set the pace. You allow the next step. The science is getting better every day, and tomorrow may have new answers.”

Dr. Donnelly directed undergraduate and graduate studies and worked to improve the public health work force by implementing continuing education workshops in environmental health for public health professionals. With more than 30 years of experience in basic and applied research, he was the associate director for the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences-funded Superfund Basic Research Program at Texas A&M. His research included environmental exposure studies in Azerbaijan; the Czech Republic; Shanxi, China; and numerous U.S. locations, along with animal and human population studies on population exposures and the genotoxicity of complex chemical mixtures.

Additional research efforts by Dr. Donnelly included a collaborative study with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a longitudinal study on pesticide exposure in children residing in four rural communities and studies on the utility of health education as an intervention to reduce childhood exposure to pesticides in Texas colonias (rural, unincorporated border communities).

“The School of Rural Public Health and the Texas A&M Health Science Center have been blessed by his contributions to our fabric,” said Dr. Dickey and Roderick E. McCallum, Ph.D., interim dean of the HSC-School of Rural Public Health and vice president for academic affairs.

“…we are all blessed to have known him. We will miss him dearly. He was truly a remarkable colleague and friend.”

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