Every minute of every hour

Family stands by Craig resident as he battles brain cancer


Maybe six months.

Maybe a year.

These were the chilling words Craig resident Don Pankey kept hearing from doctors in Grand Junction and Denver. To the physicians, the prognostications were simply an answer to a question, a scientific conclusion.

To Don, the words were a death sentence.

"A lot of people who get this are gone in a couple of months," Don said, sitting at the end of his dining room table, the glow of an over-head light reflecting off his bald head.

What Don spoke of, what he's fighting every minute of every hour of every day, is Glioblastoma Multiforme, otherwise known as GBM, an extreme form of brain cancer.

GBM is the most aggressive form of primary brain tumors, known collectively as gliomas, according to the Neurosurgical Medical Clinic, Inc. Web site.

A grade-four GBM -- what Don has -- grows rapidly, invading and altering brain function. Untreated, GBM's are rapidly lethal.

At 2 a.m. on Mother's Day, Don's tumor reached a size where it was noticeable.

Don doesn't remember how it happened. Traumatic seizures tend to do that.

His wife, Cherratina, remembers when the seizure struck and thought it was a stroke. Don was flown straight to Denver for testing, Cherratina riding at his side.

Their sons Christopher and Michael had to stay the night at home, unsure of their father's fate.

"I'm not going to sugar coat things for you," Cherratina said to her children as she left for Denver. "Things do not look good."

To explain the intensity of the tumor, Don held out his hand.

"When they did the biopsy, it was the size of the tip of my thumb," he said.

A month later, when the doctors went to remove it, it had grown to the size of a lime.

Don and Cherratina spent much of the summer in Grand Junction, where Don received chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

He was done six weeks later.

"How much did I lengthen my life by?" he asked.

A month, the doctor said.

"They had him buried," Cherratina said.

"That kind of devastated us," Don added.

They both decided to look elsewhere for help. Cherratina researched the country for the best treatment. She found it in Denver.

"We just needed to get out of here and get the best care there is," she said. "I didn't think it was in our backyard."

Three hours to the east, at the Swedish Medical Center in Littleton, is a doctor who changed the Pankeys' way of thinking.

Dr. Arenson Edward told them it's important to know a little about everything, and everything about one thing.

"That's what he told us about this stuff," Don said. "He said, 'I don't treat cancer. I try to cure it.'"

Now, two days before Christmas, Don said he feels better than at any other time during treatment.

"I feel better about life now than I did seven months ago," Don said. "We're all here, that's a gift. And we're all feeling well."

In a sign of love toward his father and concern for his family, oldest son Christopher Pankey has taken up the cause providing for the family.

Rather than having the carefree existence of most high school seniors, he works the family farm during his father's recovery.

He's handled adult responsibilities, bought groceries, paid bills, worked for his father's drilling company and kept tabs on his younger brother, Michael.

At the Moffat County Fair, Christopher showed a steer and helped his brother show his. It's a job that should take four people, Cherratina said.

"He did everything that I do because I wasn't here," Don said. "He helped Steve drill a little, too."

Don said his son has been totally dependable throughout his absence.

"I feel I have to be there for my brother," Christopher said. "He used to do a lot on his own, but I feel I have to be there for him."

While chemotherapy continues to zap Don's energy, Christopher continues to be there. For his brother and his family.

"I'm looking forward to the future," Christopher said. "He's a big guy and physically and mentally strong. I have no doubt he's going to overcome this."

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