World traveler chooses world-class care close to home

December 10, 2019

Seven days in Tokyo for 75-year-old Mary Thomas just wasn't enough time.

Seven days in Tokyo for 75-year-old Mary Thomas just wasn’t enough time. This jet-setting grandma arrived home knowing there was so much more to explore in Japan.


But her mantra still holds fast; “When you get the opportunity to go and see, you do it,” says Thomas and time – no matter how brief – is something she is grateful for.


In the 17 years since she’s been diagnosed with cancer, Thomas has been busy living. She’s traveled to Brazil, and around the U.S. “My husband and I invested in our children, and I’m reaping benefits,” Thomas said, “It’s a blessing for me to be able – health wise – to do this.”


Not only does Thomas jump on the opportunity to travel, she is also learning Spanish at the local community college, bowls in a mixed league every Monday night, teaches Sunday school every Sunday and sings in the choir at her church.


Thomas is the American dream of retirement – and a two-time cancer survivor. Her life is full and cancer free. Now. Her journey with cancer started and her last chemotherapy ended with Baptist Health Paducah.


“I was in familiar surroundings. I wasn’t away from home and in a facility around people I didn’t know. I was at the house,” Thomas said. “If I needed anything, my friends and family would come to me. It was just easy. Why would you want to leave that?”


Thomas was first diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2002. She was ready to retire when she decided to take one final physical. “The City gave us free physicals, and I hadn’t had mine,” said Thomas who worked at the police department. “I started writing down everything that had happened … like every now and then I had heartburn.”


It was recommended she follow up with an endoscopy, and the doctor who performed it, Dr. Rick McCombs, of Baptist Health Medical Group Gastroenterology, immediately knew something was wrong. He was upfront. He told Thomas she had a spot at the top of stomach, and its size alone indicated it was malignant.


“I looked at him and felt one tear roll down my cheek. He held my hand,” Thomas said. Dr. McCombs earned her trust from that moment. They shared their faith and formed a friendship.


Because the spot was located at the top of her stomach, surgeon Kevin Stigall, MD, removed her entire stomach. “Nobody thought I was going to make it. I didn’t realize I was that close to death,” Thomas said. “But now, I have no colostomy bag, and I can eat anything I want. The only thing is I have to eat small portions during the day. Who would have thought you could walk around without a stomach?”


In 2015, Thomas kept having a slight cough. She was diagnosed with Stage 2 lung cancer. Dr. Nicholas Lopez, Baptist Health Medical Group cardiothoracic surgeon, removed the middle lobe from her right lung, and she underwent chemotherapy.


“My doctors are my angels. They were assigned to me and for me,” she said.


While Thomas may travel to the ends of the earth to explore, she doesn’t find it necessary to travel for world-class health. She preferred to stay in Paducah and close to home for her cancer care. “I would recommend Baptist Health to anybody because they continue to innovate. They continue to stay on top of the medical advances and technology – especially with new cancer center,” Thomas said. “I don’t want to drive back and forth to Nashville for something I can get right here.”