The Polk family hopes to inspire others with their story of hope, healing, and love By Rebecca Brockman
When Melissa and Chris Polk started to build a new house in Greenbrier over a year ago, they didn't expect a foundation to crumble under their feet. The foundation of their new home was in good condition; it was their life foundation, that they had been building for 13 years, that started to give way. From the outside looking in, the Polks were the average American family, living out the great American dream. But something was infecting Chris from the inside that would forever change his outside view.
Indeed, the Polk family would never be the same after Chris, an active, athletic, modest husband and father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. "Everything just stopped," Melissa said when Chris told her the news. The shocking news forced the Polk family to hit the "pause button on life and take a step back." Hitting pause while raising three young boys, building a house, and juggling all the responsibilities that come with life wasn't easy, but necessary.
Chris works for Cephalon Pharmaceuticals, a career and industry that proved to be extremely beneficial in Chris' journey with cancer. Melissa credits both his job and God for prompting Chris to pursue tests for prostate cancer. Chris was diagnosed on July 3, 2007. A month prior to the diagnosis, he started experiencing some pain and casually mentioned it to one of the doctors he routinely calls on for business. After meeting with his family doctor, Chris, his doctor, and Melissa were convinced that kidney stones were causing the discomfort. A scan showed kidney stones, but they were not the root of the problem. That's when Chris scheduled an appointment with Dr. Tim Goodson at Arkansas Urology.
There are two types of tests that can be done to diagnose prostate cancer. Melissa said Dr. Goodson was hesitant about even administering the tests, thinking upon Chris' age and doubting such a healthy, active man could be a candidate.
Finally, Dr. Goodson took a biopsy and delivered the startling news. "I didn't hear another word after he told me, 'You have prostate cancer,'" said Chris. "My first thought was my family and then 1,000 different things," and then he confessed to the doctor, "I have no idea what you just said to me."
Melissa was recovering at home after having her tonsils taken out when she got the call from Chris. When asked what she went through after hearing the news, Melissa said she decided that this was Chris' cancer and she was going to support him by any means necessary. She made a promise to Chris to be there for him. Melissa made one another a promise; this one was to herself: to be strong for Chris.
The diagnosis forced the young couple into having some intense conversations, while they were still in the process of building their house. "We were picking between different cancer treatments and tile samples," Melissa said with a reflective smile. "It really put everything into perspective."
Chris explained that they were presented with two different treatment options. The first option included radiation, an option Dr. Goodson did not recommend due to Chris' age and good health. The second option was a cutting edge treatment called da Vinci Prostatetectomy. After they chose the second option, Melissa and Chris were directed to Vanderbilt and Dr. J. Smith. The acclaimed doctor is hailed as one of the leading experts in the da Vinci process. Melissa said people from all over the world come to Dr. Smith. They were told, "this is the guy."
And so the Polks' main focus was scheduling an appointment with the world-renowned doctor. Due to the popularity of Dr. Smith, they expected a wait and were told the next available appointment was after the first of the year. It was only July and time, and when it comes to cancer, it is never on your side. Somehow, Melissa decoded the doctor's email system and was able to connect directly with Dr. Smith. He responded immediately and told Melissa to call his nurse the next morning.
Before they headed to Vanderbilt, the Polks knew they had to tell their boys about their dad's cancer. Creighton, the oldest, was seven years old at the time, followed by Hayes, who was four, and baby Mathis, who was about six months old. After Chris shared his news, Creighton immediately asked the question Dr. Goodson said would be posed, "Are you going to die?" Chris responded to his seven-year-old son that the type of cancer he has, when detected early, is highly treatable.
Chris and Melissa headed to Nashville and ultimately to the Vanderbilt Medical Center the day after Labor Day. Chris was the first scheduled surgery for the day. The surgery took six hours, yet the recovery proved to be the difficult part. Chris had to take about five weeks off to fully recover. Although, looking back, they both realized the time off was a blessing. When Chris came home from Vanderbilt, he headed straight to the soccer field to watch his boys play. "It was a true test of his character," Melissa said. Life would teach them more lessons yet; since their house was not completed, the whole Polk family had to move into a 450 square-foot apartment. Chris recovered in that space and the family grew even closer. Now Chris is on the other side of cancer and feeling great. He realizes how blessed he and his family are. He's back to coaching baseball and running around with his three boys. Because of his diagnosis, Chris encouraged his dad and brother to get tested. In an ironic turn of events, his father discovered that he had prostate cancer. Like his son, Cecil Polk visited Vanderbilt and had the da Vinci surgery.
The entire experience shows the importance of foundations. Chris and his family relied on their faith in God to restore his physical foundation. And, while Chris was recovering, their new home, also built on a strong foundation was completed. And like Chris' life now, it's beautiful, too.