About 20 years ago, Brendan Lohan of Lynnfield received the news that no one ever wants to hear — “You have colon cancer.”
It was devastating, to say the least. Coupled with a poor prognosis was the fact that Brendan at 39 years old and his wife, MJ McKenna, a Lahey colleague, had two young children. Mary Eileen was ten, and James was nine. Brendan and MJ were told that he had 2 months to live as the cancer had spread to his liver. The children were old enough to understand the gravity of the situation and asked whether their father would die.
“At first, it was not a good situation,” Brendan said. “I showed my son how to take care of a number of chores because I feared that I might not be alive.” He prayed and bargained to live long enough to see his children graduate from high school.
When colon cancer spreads, it often does so to the liver, according to the American Cancer Society. Brendan already had surgery to remove his colon and extensive chemotherapy at another hospital, but despite this treatment he was still faced with the frightening reality that the disease was still in his liver. This is when his wife MJ took the reins. Fortunately, at the time she worked as a lawyer in a Boston firm representing health care providers and knew where to turn for the best care available. The person she called out to for his wealth of knowledge and expertise was Dr. Roger Jenkins.
It was at this first appointment that Brendan met a woman around his age in the waiting room. She was also waiting to see Dr. Jenkins. “We got to talking that day and discovered we had the same kind of cancer. We were there for the same reason,” he said. “I got her name and, a few weeks later when I was in the hospital I learned she was in the room across from me. I visited with her, but at the end, she died.”
“That’s the thing with this disease, you never know how it is going to turn out for you,” Brendan said. “You can read all the statistics but it comes down to the individual. That could have been me.”
Indeed it could have. One of the first things MJ noticed about Dr. Jenkins is that he takes an individual approach to treatment of this disease, she explained.
“Dr. Jenkins is a very honest person and he exercises extreme caution in what he tells his patients,” MJ continued. “When we met him, he sat on a rolling stool and looked into Brendan’s eyes. The first thing he said to Brendan was ‘I want you to know that I truly empathize with what you are going through.’” Over years of visits, Dr. Jenkins has always pulled up a rolling stool and sat at eye level with Brendan. He chats about day to day life with humor and sincere interest. One of his favorite topics over the years has been soccer — Brendan’s dedication to the game and his obvious admiration.
True to character, Dr. Jenkins would not commit to the success of a liver resection — not even that he could carry out the procedure until he was examining the liver directly with an ultrasound machine. Those hours while Brendan was in the operating room were agonizing but the news was wondrous, the procedure was a success.
“I slowly started getting better,” Brendan said. “Dr. Jenkins has never said I’m cured, but it has been almost 20 years.”
There’s no doubt in Brendan’s mind that he is blessed.
“Dr. Jenkins allowed me to watch my children grow up,” he said, his voice breaking from emotion.
There are still annual “checkups” with Dr. Jenkins. “When I go in to see him, we just talk,” Brendan said. “That’s how he examines me. We talk.” When Brendan was interviewed for a piece in US News & World Report, he was asked what he attributed his good health to. He replied, “To my God and to Dr. Jenkins.”
The new Lahey Hospital & Medical Center Transplant Institute took years of planning and was unveiled in January 2019, named after Dr. Jenkins because of his legacy in the field of transplantation.