For many people, being diagnosed with cancer stirs up feelings of anxiety and isolation. Since beginning his treatment for renal cancer at Sentara Martha Jefferson in 2017, Dave Garrett and his wife, Paula, have felt tremendous support from the team members at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital—from doctors and nurses to valet parking attendants, food service workers, schedulers and masseuses. Together with devoted family and friends, this network of providers and staff makes up “Team Garrett,” rallying together to help Dave live the best life possible with stage 5 cancer.
“It’s unbelievable—I had never imagined that I could feel so much affection for hospital personnel,” says Paula, who served as a teacher with Charlottesville City Schools for 25 years. “We’ve spent many hours at the hospital and at the cancer center over these past five years. The care and attention given to both of us have been phenomenal. These people would do anything for Dave, and we are incredibly grateful.”
The Garretts recently expressed their gratitude for the care provided them with a personal, handwritten letter of thanks and a gift to help recognize the members of the Phillips Cancer Center Medical Oncology and Infusion Team. In previous years, they similarly recognized the valet parking staff for their kindness, good humor and excellent customer service.
“We have given these gifts out of gratitude and thankfulness for all of our blessings,” says Paula, who also had two successful knee replacements at Sentara Martha Jefferson. “So many people at Sentara Martha Jefferson do everything possible to make Dave comfortable and to make sure he has what he needs. And they check on me, too, making sure I understand his illness, his treatments and how to care for him at home. They’re concerned about my well-being and encourage me to take care of myself.”
Both West Virginia natives and graduates of West Virginia University, the Garretts moved to Charlottesville in 1968, when Dave was hired as vice principal at Lane High School. Two years later, he became principal at Burnley-Moran Elementary School, serving in that role for 13 years. He also was principal at Charlottesville High School for a year, and then at Johnson Elementary School from 1986 until his retirement in 1991. Paula taught the first, second and fourth grades, as well as Title I reading classes.
After retiring from public education, Dave, a former Marine, spent 10 years as an instructor for the U.S. Navy’s Seaman to Admiral Program. He traveled all over the world for months at a time, teaching junior officers serving on naval vessels, with stops in places such as Japan, Singapore, the Mediterranean and Saudi Arabia. He retired—this time for good—after the ship on which he was serving was fired upon by a missile—which, thankfully, failed to strike its intended target.
“That was the best teaching experience I’ve ever had,” recalls Dave, who earned his master’s degree from the University of Richmond and also completed doctoral coursework at the University of Virginia. “The youngsters were so interested in learning, and I did my best to keep their interest and teach them about the U.S. Constitution.”
After Dave’s initial cancer diagnosis in 2012, urologist Geoffrey Habermacher, MD—who has since left Sentara Martha Jefferson—removed Dave’s diseased right kidney. Two years later, however, Dave began experiencing pain in his right arm, and tests revealed that the cancer had metastasized to his arm. He had surgery in 2016 and again in 2017 to remove the cancer. His humerus, the long bone of the arm, was so diseased that it had to be replaced with an artificial material.
For the first four years after diagnosis, Dave underwent cancer treatments at the Duke Cancer Center. However, making the long trip was a strain, so he recently moved his care closer to home at the Sentara Martha Jefferson Cancer Center. He also undergoes home peritoneal dialysis six days a week. To ensure that Dave’s care is coordinated, his oncologist, Andrew Romano, MD, collaborates regularly with his primary care physician, Jeff Davis, MD, and his nephrologist, Kevin McConnell, MD. The Sentara care team also continues to consult with Dave’s physicians at Duke, as needed.
“All of my doctors have been remarkable, wonderful, caring professionals,” says Dave, who had to learn to eat and write with his left hand after losing the bone in his dominant right arm. “I feel blessed to have Dr. Romano, and he has become a wonderful friend. I’m in good and capable hands. I feel blessed to live in Charlottesville and close to Sentara Martha Jefferson. All of my doctors are quick to call me and talk to me over the phone. They check on me after my appointments. It’s really been a team effort.”
Rounding out Team Garrett are the Garretts’ son, David—along with his wife, Janice, and their four children, Nicholas, Lucas, Lauren and Justen—and their daughter, Susan, who lives with the couple. The newest and liveliest member of the team is Casey, the Garretts’ 1-year-old Cockapoo pup.
“Casey is so full of life and brings so much joy to us,” says Dave.
These days, Dave is doing well, having regained some of the weight lost during his cancer treatments. He enjoys gardening, cooking, reading and working on the expansive train track he has been building in the couple’s family room.
“It’s heartwarming to see how the doctors, nurses and hospital staff are all on the same page for my husband,” Paula says. “All of these people have gone the extra mile for Dave, and we are extremely grateful.”