Beating Cancer in Cajun Country: A Personal Story of Challenge & Triumph in Opelousas

Bill Fontenot and Kacey Dunn, nurse practitioner, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center at Opelousas General
Bill Fontenot and Kacey Dunn, nurse practitioner, Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center at Opelousas General

At age 72, Mr. Bill Fontenot has won more battles than he can count. He spent his entire career in public service working at the Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development and serving  as St. Landry Parish president for eight years and eight months. Whether he was working to repair potholes, taking steps to strengthen public safety, or spurring economic development within the parish, there was no challenge that stood in his way when it came to dutifully serving the people of Louisiana and his beloved St. Landry Parish.

But, in the end, nothing could quite prepare him for the fight of his life – a squamous cell carcinoma of the head, face and skin.

“I remember the day I got the news – my world was shaken to its core,” said Bill. “The cancer caused me to feel tired and it was difficult to think clearly. After much deliberation, I decided that it was best for the parish if I stepped aside and focused on my health.”

Having heard about Mary Bird Perkins’ reputation for its high-quality care, Bill chose to travel from his St. Landry Parish home to seek treatment at the cancer center in Baton Rouge. He was immediately connected to Dr. Laura Hetzler, Dr. Stephen Hernandez and Dr. Bryan Bienvenu. In February 2020, underwent surgery and began treatment.

“I could not be more impressed and satisfied with the care I received at Mary Bird Perkins,” said Bill. “It was obvious that Dr. Bienvenu, his clinical team and the entire staff cared about me and my family. They called me often between appointments just to check in on me. I also really appreciated the mental and emotional support I received. I spent decades serving the people of my community – I wasn’t used to being the one needing to seek out help.”

Three years later, Bill is on the road to recovery, to the great delight of his wife, Patsy, three children and eight grandchildren. He’ll tell you what makes him feel even better is knowing that more members of his St. Landry Parish community have greater access to preventive cancer services and treatment. Earlier this year, Mary Bird Perkins and Opelousas General Health System announced a formal partnership giving patients from St. Landry Parish and the broader region convenient access to Louisiana’s largest team of cancer care specialists. In fact, Bill has taken advantage of the collaboration himself – he’s now able to see Dr. Bienvenu in Opelousas rather than drive all the way to Baton Rouge. 

Both organizations have acknowledged there is a great need. In fact, according to the Louisiana Tumor Registry, St. Landry Parish has the highest cancer mortality rate in the Acadiana region and is in the top 10 parishes in Louisiana with the highest cancer mortality rate.

“The board of directors and CEO, Dr. Ken Cochran, at Opelousas General are very progressive forward-thinking and focused on a comprehensive approach to managing care,” said Bill. “I’m not at all surprised about their decision to team up with Mary Bird Perkins. I’m hearing that residents from Lafayette and even further are making their way to Opelousas to get the care they need. This partnership is a total win-win for every stakeholder involved – and a major benefit to the people of St. Landry Parish and Acadiana.”

While he may no longer serve in elected office, Bill Fontenot remains a fixture in his community and still keeps a finger on the pulse of his parish. In fact, he’s more bullish than ever on the future of St. Landry Parish.

“With organizations like Opelousas General and Mary Bird Perkins working to improve the health and well-being of our community, I know our best days are ahead!”