Summit County churches rally behind pastor for new cancer treatment center
Just after Christmas in 2015, Father Michael Glenn of Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church started to experience nagging headaches and periodic bouts of forgetfulness.
As those symptoms persisted, his friends and family encouraged him to see a doctor. His father had once had a brain aneurism, and maybe he was experiencing a related condition.
An MRI revealed the true culprit: a tumor in his brain that was confirmed as glioblastoma multiforme, an extremely aggressive form of brain cancer with a high mortality rate.
A surgeon at St. Anthony Hospital in Lakewood successfully removed the tumor last March. But Father Michael had to travel to Houston for a grueling, nine-month course of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
For his next round of treatment, however, he might not have to return to the humid and decidedly less scenic Texas metropolis: in May, the Summit Medical Center is slated to open its new infusion treatment center overlooking Lake Dillon and Buffalo Mountain.
The addition is part of an effort to address Summit County’s relatively limited cancer treatment options, which often force patients to commute or even relocate to Denver.
“When you’re going through infusion, you don’t feel that well afterward and you have to have friends or family help care for you,” Father Michael said.
“To drive down to Denver to get infusion and then drive back really isn’t ideal. It’ll be a great gift to have an infusion center so close and so local — and with the best views in the world for infusion.”
Father Michael is currently working on transferring his treatment regimen to the new center, and he said he looks forward to those views making his infusion treatments a little less unpleasant.
He returned to Summit earlier this month for an interlude in his treatment, and he didn’t learn until then that his own flock had provided the final fundraising push to ensure the project would go forward.
“In mid-December, they were about $30,000 shy of the funding needed,” recalled Deacon Chuck Lamar. “So I sent out a big email and said it would be great if we could get together and close that gap for Father Michael.”
The response from parishioners was overwhelming, Deacon Chuck said. They ultimately raised around $53,000.
“All the churches in the county are praying for him, and they all provided that final push at the end to get us over the top,” Deacon Chuck said.
“When I got back and found out they had all done that, I was very honored,” Father Michael said.
He hadn’t initially told many people about his diagnosis, but Father Michael said he felt blessed to have had so many people praying for him while he was away.
“When people found out, they started fervently praying for me and sending special prayers to Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati,” Father Michael said, referring to an Italian near-saint who was also an avid rock climber.
Father Michael keeps pictures of Frassati in his office, including a framed photo that was given to him by a member of Frassati’s family, whom Father Michael befriended while he was in Italy pursuing his master’s degree in theology.
Father Michael said he’s grateful to be waking up to views of Buffalo Mountain and Red Mountain again. He’s also glad to be reunited with his Bernese mountain dog, Bartimaeus (or “Bart,” for short), and hopes that with the new infusion center they won’t have to part ways again.
Being able to conduct Mass again is another obvious plus. Father Michael started preaching again just three days after returning when his back-up priest got sick.
“When I got the call, I had to tear through my boxes, find my blacks and speed back down here with 13 minutes to spare,” Father Michael said. “But conducting Mass is what it’s all about — it’s why you become a priest.”
The center, set to open May 1, will have eight infusion chairs along with special exam rooms that St. Anthony hopes will attract more specialists to the county.
The main goal, however, was to allow patients like Father Michael to get treatment locally.
“Currently, most of the hundreds of patients diagnosed with cancer each year in Summit and neighboring counties must access care by travelling to Vail or Denver,” said Centura Health finance manager Michelle Abbott. “Summit Medical Center saw how important it was to find a way to provide cancer patients with a way to receive care right here where they live, and we counted on the generosity of the community to make it possible.”
Right now, Father Michael’s prognosis looks good despite the severity of the cancer he was diagnosed with. He and his doctors plan to continue aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments to try and prevent it from coming back.
“If you’re going to do something as unpleasant as chemotherapy, it’s good to be able to look at something beautiful while you’re doing it,” he said. “Summit is beautiful — but heaven is going to be a lot better.”
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