Stories of Perseverance: Dale Latva

Each year leading a handful of those in the community going through a cancer journey themselves or with a loved one share their story.  These are the people the efforts of Pink Arrow help in the community.  They’re friends and neighbors.  You may not even know how cancer has touched them.  This series of stories are written by the person you will read about or by someone on their behalf.  We thank them for sharing their story and the courage to battle cancer in some way.

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Photo courtesy of Heather Eveland and is used with permission.  You can visit her photography website and Facebook page for more information.

The following is from Dale Latva.  He writes about his personal cancer journey.

My name is Dale Latva, and I am 62 years old. I have been married to Karen for 36 years. Our family consists of Robert and Jessica, and
grandson, Jameson, and our youngest son, Jon. Karen and I are both retired teachers from Lowell Area Schools and taught 30 and 32 years respectively.

I was diagnosed with cirrhosis, or scarring, of the liver in April of 2013 resultant of a hereditary condition commonly referred to as a “fatty liver”.  My “fatty liver”, coupled with many years of alcohol use…I was told that they don’t play nice with each other…contributed to the extensive scarring.  I immediately quit consuming alcohol and did what my doctors told me. My doctors monitored me very closely, and things went very well up until February of 2016.

In February of 2016 after a routine ultrasound of my liver, a suspicious lesion was found and suspected of being cancerous. My gastroenterologist, Dr. Matthew Moeller, immediately sent the ultrasound and lab tests to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. A short time later it was confirmed that the lesion was, indeed, cancerous. The short-term solution was to do an ablation, a burning of the lesion, to kill the cancer, which was done in May. The long-term solution was to start preparing for a liver transplant, as the traditional treatments of radiation and chemotherapy were not options.

Henry Ford Hospital has one of the best liver transplant clinics in the country, so I knew I was in good hands. The process of preparation began in March of 2016 with many medical tests and meetings with transplant preparations wrapping up on May 10. I was officially on the transplant list but would be inactive for 6 months because I was still very healthy, and my “MELD” score, a system used to rank the urgency for a transplant, was quite low.

I was lucky in the fact that I was never sick during this whole process, unlike many cancer patients who are to one degree or another. I, again, followed the orders of my doctors and took good care of myself by exercising and losing weight to prepare for the surgery.

The six-month wait ended on November 11, 2016; I officially received my exemption points necessary to increase my MELD score qualifying me for immediate transplant. I was SO fortunate to get a call two days later on November 13; a compatible donor organ had been found and was accepted on my behalf. I was told to report to the hospital on November 14 at 6:30 AM, and transplant surgery would begin at 10:00 AM. I was in the hospital six days and then sent home to recover. I continue my recovery by taking my medications, getting the required frequent lab tests and check-ups with my doctors at Henry Ford Hospital. I also continue to do what the doctors tell me by taking good care of myself with exercise and diet.

I am such a blessed and lucky person to have been given this “Gift of Life”. I also have had fantastic support from my family, friends, and great doctors, nurses, and technicians.

If I could give some advice to anyone that is battling cancer or has a family member battling, it would be to make sure you trust and have confidence in your doctor, and if you don’t, find one that you can. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of asking questions and always having a “second set of ears” with you at all appointments. Follow your doctor’s orders, and if you don’t understand, ask them.

Frame of mind is as important, in my opinion, as the medical treatment that I have received. I learned this from my parents, Ted and Shirley Latva, back in the 1970’s, when my mother battled cancer for 10 years. They worked together as a team with their doctor and had that “never give up” attitude.  You can’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself. You have to get up, if you are able, and be as active as you can. I was reminded of this from our neighbor, Janet Johnson, over the last few years before she passed away.  NEVER, EVER, GIVE UP! I want you to know that I do my best to practice what I preach.

A few final thoughts about this journey… first, I have the most supportive teammate in my wife, Karen. She is phenomenal as a caregiver and is the best. My family and friends continue to support me just by listening and asking about how things are going. Pink Arrow has been a wonderful support for all of us on the cancer journey in many ways. We were taken a back when the support from Pink Arrow came our way after my transplant.  The very last and final thought would be to encourage everyone to consider signing up for organ donation. Gift of Life Michigan is a wonderful organization that handles the organ donor registry and coordinates matching donors with recipients. I have been given a second chance at life because of the selfless act of organ donation; I will forever be grateful for this incredible gift.

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