A radiologist, practicing in Gastonia, NC, Gerald was exposed to hepatitis in the course of caring for a patient during his medical training in the early 1970s. While he hoped for the best, he knew that there was a possibility he would develop hepatitis C — the chronic form of the disease that can lead to liver damage and liver cancer.
Being in the health field, the Arneys were able to keep their finger on the pulse of developments in treating the disease and Gerald watched the development of interferon therapy as it progressed, deciding to have the often effective — but sometimes difficult — treatment in 2003. All the while, they monitored his liver status with annual checkups.
In May 2010, they got difficult news. Gerald said, “Teresa is the ultrasound tech at my office and I could tell that she scanned over something quickly. I asked her if there was something there, and she said yes.” Gerald’s office called Mary and their daughter Jenny, who were waiting at home. On the way to the office, Gerald called Mary to tell her he had a tumor on his liver.
One of Gerald’s first calls was to UNC Lineberger director Shelley Earp. “I could tell in his voice that he was concerned. He said, ‘I know who I would like you to see, but he is traveling. We’ll get you in just as soon as he gets back.” The Arneys decided not to wait and made an appointment at Vanderbilt, where the doctor told them the tumor was inoperable and that he just needed to go home and be with family.
The next Monday, Gerald came to UNC to see Dr. David Gerber. “He walked in with a huge smile and said, ‘We can do surgery,’ — he said it would be risky but that he could do it.” Gerald says, “I felt like hope just walked in the door.” Mary adds, “As soon as Dr. Gerber left, Gerald said that we were staying at UNC for treatment. Dr. Gerber brought us a sense of confidence, compassion and hope, which helped us look for the tomorrow in our lives.”
The Arneys’ desire to help others look for tomorrow inspired them to make a $25,000 gift in support of liver cancer research. While Gerald’s cancer recurred in the spring of 2011, they are focused on living every day to the fullest, enjoying time together and with friends. A teddy bear given to Gerald during his liver surgery has been ‘kidnapped’ by their friends — traveling to different places in the United States and sending back photos and notes to let them know what she has been up to. “We get to live vicariously through her experiences,” they note with laughter.