One day in February of last year Harold Dunkleberg, a house builder in the little town of Osborne, Kansas, noticed a lump under his right arm. He showed it to his wife, Rosalie, and she told him he ought to see a doctor. But Mr. Dunkleberg was reluctant to do that. He said it was just from wearing T-shirts that were too tight and, besides, he was too busy to go to the doctor. Still, Rosalie Dunkleberg couldn’t get that lump off her mind. She kept pestering her husband about it, and finally, in March, he went to the family doctor.
The doctor said the lump really ought to be taken out. Mr. Dunkleberg grudgingly accepted this diagnosis, but he put off the operation until the summer. On July 5, 1978, the doctor removed from Mr. Dunkleberg’s armpit a growth roughly the size of two fists pressed together and sent it off to Topeka for tests. Ten days later, the results came back and the doctor told Mr. Dunkleberg he had cancer—specifically, lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph system that can appear in many parts of the body.
Mrs. Dunkleberg is from Downs, Kansas, a town just east of Osborne, and she knew a man there, Jim Hart, who had had lymphoma. When Jim Hart heard the bad news he came straight to see the Dunklebergs. “Harold,” he said, “you feel good now but you have a son of a bitch inside you, and in six months it’ll get you.” He turned to Mrs. Dunkleberg. “Rosalie, if you love your husband, the only place you can go right now is M. D. Anderson Hospital in Houston.”
So on July 25, 1978, Harold and Rosalie Dunkleberg arrived at the Texas Medical Center, a collection of 24 institutions packed onto a 200-acre plot of land on Fannin Street just south of Hermann Park. Harold Dunkleberg was one of 1.5 million patients who came to the Medical Center last year.