A man of strong faith, Massey is undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer. But the diagnosis came after several months of tests to pinpoint what presented as a tumor of unknown origin.
His faith, family, friends and great equanimity have helped him along his pathway to diagnosis. It began with shooting abdominal pains in September of 2010. “I was scanned, scoped and x-rayed,” Massey says, “and the tests showed a shadow that turned out to be a small mass, the size of a large marble, between the wall and lining in my small intestine.”
He underwent exploratory surgery at Rex Cancer Center, and his biopsy and blood work were sent to a specialized lab in California. The results would help determine what type of chemotherapy would best address his tumor. He had already begun treatment when the lab results came back, showing that his tumor cell type was pancreatic, although there was no tumor in his pancreas.
His Rex physician, Dr. JoEllen Speca, suggested that due to his diagnosis, he might consult another specialist to confirm their treatment plan. He then did what everyone would do-he started calling friends for recommendations, and names of UNC physicians kept being repeated.
Massey called a high school buddy, Bill Starling, who serves on the UNC Lineberger Board of Visitors. Starling put him in touch with surgical oncologist Dr. H.J. Kim at UNC Lineberger, and an appointment was made for the following week.
Massey was hesitant about leaving Dr. Speca, but came to UNC to meet with Drs. H.J. Kim and Bert O’Neil, a medical oncologist and leader of the GI Oncology Program. “Dr. Speca is my primary person, but I knew that Rex and UNC physicians work together, so was okay with the decision.”
Masseys’ visit to UNC went well. Drs. Bert O’Neil and oncology fellow Autumn McCree met with the Masseys to discuss their case. The UNC team recommended that he continue his chemotherapy regimen at Rex and offered to monitor his progress after his treatments.
Massey sent Starling an email describing his visit to UNC. “ I have never been wrapped in a better feeling of care, concern and true patient focus than going into the Lineberger Center. It is easy sometimes to get lost in the test tubes, machines, and charts, but the people at Lineberger have not lost sight of the person sitting there in front of them facing the toughest challenges of their lives. The hope they provide is priceless; the help they give is truly beyond measure.”
Massey is continuing his treatments at Rex. He says that his cancer diagnosis has made him more flexible, that “I have more of an attitude to let the day come. “It has also strengthened his faith. “God has placed so many people in my path, from the doctors and nurses to friends and others to make this cancer journey easier.”
He compares the cancer experience to “looking in the abyss. It’s an opportunity to give up or to look for people who will support and drive you to make the right choice.”
Massey and his wife, Teeny, one of his best friends from high school, have been married for 31 years. They have two children, Cameron, a practicing psychologist in Boone, and Hannah, who is finishing her master’s in elementary education.