Richard Minster’s medical history reads like a mystery novel – just when it seems you’ve figured out the plot, there’s a twist. But thanks to Rochester General Hospital, the 81-year-old is still writing new chapters of his life.
“I feel a certain determination to stay alive,” said Minster, who has beaten cancer three times and survived a ripped aorta. “I feel like I’m the poster child of the Lipson Cancer Institute at Rochester General Hospital, and they have a vested interest in keeping me alive.”
While he can joke about it now, each of his diagnoses was grim.
In 2012, Minster just wasn’t feeling right, and he had no appetite. If he walked up the stairs, he had to rest. A few medical tests later, he knew.
“I was coming back from Wegmans, and I had two messages on my cell phone,” he said. Those messages told him he had leukemia, and doctors wanted to see him in half an hour. “One doctor told me there was a three percent chance that I’d live until the end of the year.”
His friends pressured him to go someplace bigger, someplace like Boston or the Mayo Clinic. But Minster didn’t want to put that burden on his wife, and he had a strong relationship with his oncologist, Pradyumna Phatak, MD, medical director at Lipson Cancer Institute.
“Dr. Phatak told me if I wanted a second opinion, now would be the time to get it,” Minster said. “I asked Dr. Phatak if he had graduated in the top half of his class. He said, ‘Yes.’ I asked him if he read up on all the latest information, and he said he read all the journals. I told him I’d just stay with him, and I’m glad I did. He saved my life three times.”
The first time, Dr. Phatak offered experimental medicine that put Minster into remission. Then, about three years later, another variety of leukemia threatened Minster’s life again. Dr. Phatak administered another new medicine that eventually pushed that cancer into remission, too.
Then, a few years ago, “Dr. Phatak was reviewing my routine bloodwork and found something he didn’t like. It turns out I had colon cancer,” Minster said. “I had a section removed, and everything was fine until earlier this year.”
Minster was at home in Pittsford when he felt a punch to his sternum – a punch as hard as if The Hulk had hit him. His wife saw his painful reaction and called 9-1-1.
“The doctor told me that my aorta had ripped and I needed surgery. He said they would go in through a vein in my thigh, and I wouldn’t even have a stitch,” Minster said. “If this had happened just a few months before, the surgeon would have had to cut starting on my back and making his way to my chest. It would have taken months to recover. Once again, Rochester General came through with a state-of-the-art procedure.”
While Minster is certainly grateful, he’s also still witty.
“I told Dr. Phatak that I had been specializing in his area, but I decided to branch out into cardiology and see what they could do for me. But in all seriousness, Dr. Phatak is so intelligent. You can talk to him about any field of medicine, and he’ll offer good advice.”
Minster has thanked Dr. Phatak and the clinical teams several times, and his wife brings homemade Christmas cookies every year.
“If you’re in a position to donate enough money to name a room at the hospital, I always thought it would be good to put a doctor’s name on it,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to honor a doctor you like.”
Also, there are many small programs that could use gifts, Minster said.
“The part I go to is small. I know the people, and they know me. They show me pictures of their kids. It really is a family. You don’t have to fund a whole hospital. You can give to a small area and really help the people there.”