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Ross Bethel

At first Dr. Ross Bethel, family physician, was losing weight because of a deal he made with a patient.

"My patient was diabetic and she told me, 'I just can't lay off sweets.' So I told her that I would if she would for three months. I lost weight, and I kept losing it. I thought, this must be the secret!

"But then I lost too much weight, and I had pain radiating from my liver to my shoulder. I felt around and there was a huge lump – a big one, like a baseball."

That's the moment, on July 24, 2017, that Dr. Ross Bethel -- father, husband and family physician at Selah Family Medicine -- went from doctor to patient. "Two days later I had a colonoscopy and that confirmed it. It was colon cancer that had spread to my liver. And that made it Stage 4. That meant I had about three years."

A few days later, Dr. Bethel began recording his cancer journey in a blog at "Heidi was with me when I found out. We told Zach and Kate that night. Matthew was at camp and just got home now, so had to break the news to him also. Those have been the hardest moments. Other things hit us along the way . . . future hopes that probably won't become reality. Then tears come. But the love and support of my family and friends is a marvelous blessing."

Dr. Bethel left work to focus on his family and his treatment. "I figured, this is my retirement," he says. "As much as I love my job, I didn't want to lose that time with my family. I took the kids to school, went to all the games. We were just around."

Everyone who sees me for the first time since this has happened tells me how good I look (because of the weight loss). No one used to tell me that, so cancer has made me better looking!

He started chemotherapy quickly, and then in October 2017 his colon became obstructed. Dr. Bethel had an emergency ileostomy at Virginia Mason Medical Center. (A procedure in which the lowest part of the small intestine is brought through an opening in the stomach. Digestive contents leave the body through the opening, and the drainage is collected in a pouch attached to the skin.)

Dr. Vicky Jones at North Star Lodge thought a second opinion would be a smart idea. She sent Dr. Bethel to Dr. Alan Venook at the University of California San Francisco. He thought that most of the tumors could be cut from the liver (which has the ability to regenerate). This increased Dr. Bethel's chances of surviving to 40 percent at five years.

You may not be of the right generation to know the REM song "Losing my Religion." Well, I'm not doing that, but on December 11 I will be losing part of my liver.

By the end of January 2018 Dr. Bethel felt well enough to return to work part time, doing administrative duties and working on leadership projects.

"On one hand you're preparing wills, making sure life insurance is up to date. On the other hand you're praying you won't die, praying for a miracle," he says. "Faith is the hope for things we don't yet see. I have a new understanding of faith now. But my faith is not blind. I could still have a recurrence. I know that."

In March, Dr. Bethel completed chemotherapy treatments: Great news! Tomorrow is my last round of chemo. All has been going well and I feel great. Going back to work has been fun but tiring. Heidi had surgery on her ankle this week and is non-weight bearing for a month, so I have had the privilege of caring for her instead of the other way around.

In April the left side of Dr. Bethel's colon was removed and the ileostomy was reversed. He started seeing patients again in June.

"I love my patients and they love me. They were all crying when I left the practice, so now that I'm back at work all my patients are crying again." He smiles.

"I'm amazed at the response, at people's support. When I went to chemo education class they told me I had to flush the toilet twice. We have an old house with an old toilet, and we often have to do that anyway. So I called the plumber for a new toilet. He told the guy down at the store, 'Did you hear about what happened to Dr. Bethel?' Well, I had treated that guy's mom and he looked at the plumber and said, 'For Dr. Bethel? Pick one!' Now, I can certainly afford a toilet, but for him to do that . . . so many kindnesses."

In two to three months there will be another CT scan. "There's still this ongoing waiting game, which is what most cancer patients deal with – will it come back?"

And life from here?

"My poor kids have to have their first colonoscopy at age 36. I told them," Dr. Bethel says. "Also, I'm a pescatarian now, I eat fish.

"I want to raise my kids. I want to know my grandkids, and I want to grow old with Heidi. So that's what I started praying for."