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Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Dr. Flynn’s cancer pictures

Dr. Rod Flynn with his wife, Betty, and his daughters, Grace and Micah.

Dr. Rod Flynn warned his audience that some of his slides were graphic, or “blood and guts,” as he described it. They were.

Nervous laughter greeted the picture of a flayed leg. One woman held her hand in front of her eyes when the screen filled with a beef-like lump that turned out to be a man’s liver, gall bladder and colon.

“I told you,” Flynn teased after displaying a picture of a diseased breast.

“I’ve got to (remove) it, and you’ve got to look at it,” he joked.

 Flynn is a surgical oncologist at Mary Washington Hospital, a specialist in the removal of cancerous tumors. Last week he was the featured speaker at the hospital’s quarterly Cancer Survivor Symposium. His topic was “Cancer Survivorship 101,” a primer on cancer, its causes and treatments.

Flynn talked about how patients are living longer with cancer, and on the importance of staging, or classifying tumors. “Staging is not an academic exercise. It’s our way of trying to make sense of something that we don’t completely understand, i.e. the biology of tumors,” he said.

But it was the pictures of patients, or more accurately the pictures of parts, that made some people in the audience wince.

“This is the uterus,” Flynn said, describing one red mass. “It’s markedly enlarged.”

Another picture was of a woman with one breast and a large scar where her other breast had been. “This is a radical mastectomy,” Flynn said. “We don’t do these anymore.”

Next came a picture of a cancerous foot, minus the big toe. A gloved hand held the toe, colored a curious blue. “This is the piece of toe we had to take out in order to make this patient cancer-free,” Flynn said.

The audience included dozens of former cancer patients, many of whom were missing body parts themselves. Despite their occasional discomfort, they seemed to appreciate Flynn’s mix of humor and candor, his insistence that they peer behind the curtain. They applauded warmly when he was done.