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Information is key to overcoming cancer
Survivors stories: A series throughout May celebrating Relay for Life
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Henry Rowe sits with Sophie in his Gainesville home. Surviving cancer "is a family affair," he says, since he's gone three rounds with soft-tissue sarcoma and his wife, Georgia, has had two bouts with breast cancer. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

For Henry Rowe, knowledge is power.

In 1989, Rowe had a large mass removed from his left buttock, which turned out to be a soft-tissue sarcoma. When he heard the news that the mass that he had been living with for years was cancer, he drove to Emory University's medical school and started digging through the research, looking for information about what he had.

"I think the first operation I had a probability of 30 percent that I would live five years. If I had chemo if went up to 40 percent. It wasn't worth 10 percent to me," he said. "Instead, I went out and bought a convertible. I gave up my management job with IBM, I went back to being a salesman. I took the easier lifestyle, I started working out, started eating vegetables and started taking my vacations."

Even though Rowe had the mass removed, the doctor who performed the surgery didn't know what he had taken out. In fact, Rowe said, that doctor was one of a string who didn't know what the mass was growing in his buttock, and previous ones told him, "if it doesn't bother you, don't bother it."

Not wanting to continue on this track, Rowe's trip to Emory also turned up a doctor fresh off his residency who specialized in soft-tissue cancer. And he was able to give Rowe a heads-up that the next step would be a mass showing up in his lungs.

He was right.

Eighteen months later, Rowe said, doctors removed a mass that had formed in his right lung, and then went back in 18 months later and did it again. He hasn't had any reoccurrences since then.

"He really saved my life by following up and taking a wide incision at the site," Rowe said. "Because the first doctor cut it up, the second doctor felt it had gotten in the blood stream. For me it was a slow grower so it took a long time to develop to the size it was."

Rowe's wife of 40 years, Georgia, has also had her own bouts with cancer. About three years ago she discovered a lump through a mammogram and had a lumpectomy. Another lump formed about a year ago and she ended up electing to have a double masectomy, Rowe said.

Georgia has been busy raising money for the upcoming Hall County Relay for Life, which starts at 7 p.m. May 30 at Flowery Branch High School's track and goes through the night. She's raised $700 just among their neighbors buying purple ribbons for their mailboxes.

"If you ride around you see the purple ribbons," Rowe said. "They sell the ribbons for a minimum of $5, but many people give more than that."

Rowe said his experiences with cancer in the past - his mother-in-law died of colon cancer - also helped drive the decisions he made about his own battle with cancer. While he recognizes the advances that have been made in chemotherapy and other drugs, however, he said he felt more comfortable making lifestyle changes and enjoying what time he has left - which ended up being much longer than any medical book at Emory ever predicted.

"I think the more you learn about your situation, your particular disease, the better off you are. In my case, I felt like the values of taking chemotherapy or radiation was not worth the pain."

And changing his lifestyle, he said, also had an effect.

"Even if it's less stress, it's still a way to help lead a healthier life."

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