Liver Cancer Survivor Goes the Distance at Senior Olympics

When Cleveland “Ray” Artis was diagnosed with liver cancer, he stubbornly refused to acknowledge the alarming diagnosis. He felt devoid of telltale symptoms and gently but firmly argued his case.  The Cheverly, Md., resident ultimately put his trust in Georgetown’s Dr. Ruth He and underwent an operation in 2009 performed by Dr. Lynt Johnson, currently chairman of the Department of Surgery at Georgetown University, to treat his liver cancer. Now cancer free, he called Dr. He to confirm that he could take up running again, a daily practice and passion since 1990. 

“Do you remember what you told me?” the grandfather of four asked Dr. He during a Saturday morning patient-professional session at the fourth annual Fighting a Smarter War Against Cancer symposium convened by The Ruesch Center at Georgetown University. “You said that I could run and so I did!” Mr. Artis then surprised the associate professor of medicine at Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Division of Hematology/Oncology and proudly held up medals earned from the Maryland Senior Olympics for his efforts in long jump and the 100- and 400-meter races.

Says Dr. He, “For sure, he has the can-do spirit. He has helped other patients who carry the same diagnosis, providing them with encouragement and support. His story relays an important message: lifestyle, that is exercise, health, diet, stop drinking and smoking, is by choice.”

Mr. Artis, who unabashedly turned 70 this past December has been competing in the Senior Olympics “off and on” since 1996 and typically runs quarter miles. “I wanted to know if I could run – it was in my heart to do so,” he recalls.

He valued Dr. He’s guidance and sought her approval to gear up for the Olympics. “She is one of the most beautiful people I ever met in my life,” he says fondly. “She tells me what she wants me to do and I trust her. She’s honest and she’s sincere. She cares about her patients.”

That commitment to the patient is trademark Georgetown as they help realize the promise of patient-centered care. This standard of care is the unique rule and not the exception at Lombardi and extends seamlessly to the broader cancer team as well, he notes. Mr. Artis is quick to also shower praise on Nurse Karen Dorsh Vogel. “I love her,” he says.

“We have a unique multidisciplinary team of passionate, competent, collaborative and caring physicians including surgeons, medical oncologists, hepatologists, radiation oncologists, interventional radiologists, radiologists to provide the accurate diagnosis and cutting edge treatment for patients,” notes Dr. He. “For deadly cancers, in addition to standard care, we provide new therapeutics in clinical trials that offer patients with options and improved outcomes.”

With his liver cancer now confidently behind him, Mr. Artis says he continues to get periodic phone calls from his cancer care team led by Dr. He. “They call to check in on how I am doing and always ask if there is anything they can do for me.” He smiles knowing he has been in good hands, then and now.

“Every morning I open my eyes and say, ‘Thank you, Jesus.’ Whether good, bad or indifferent, it’s all good if you are here,” he says.

Asked what her reaction was when Mr. Artis surprised Dr. He by holding up his Olympic medals? “Very proud of him and inspired,” she says. “Physicians support patients during the cancer diagnosis and treatment. On the other hand, patients inspire physicians to be better doctors.”