In February 2020, while Jerry and his wife were visiting friends in Phoenix, Jerry developed a nasty cough. It lasted for about a week, and then it stopped, so Jerry thought it must have been a cold or bronchitis.
A few months later, back in New Richmond, Jerry was trying to schedule a shoulder surgery. He had a diagnostic x-ray procedure that revealed arthritis, so Jerry’s doctor said he would need a shoulder replacement. A follow-up MRI was scheduled to see if there were any rotator cuff tears. It was during this MRI that the radiologist picked up a tumor on Jerry’s left lung.
“Up to that point, I thought I was healthy,” Jerry said. “My biggest complaint was arthritis! After getting two knee replacements in 2010, I was active. This was an accidental diagnosis. I consider myself very lucky.”
Cancer care, steps away
Jerry had his MRI at Westfields Hospital in New Richmond, which is also the hub for Cancer Center of Western Wisconsin (CCWW). Jerry was immediately referred to an oncologist. “I just walked down the hall to CCWW,” he said. “I had heard really good things about the CCWW doctors.”
Jerry was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. It appeared to be well-contained, on the edge of his left lung. “They didn’t think it had grown into nearby tissues,” Jerry said. “I really trusted my doctors, so I was feeling pretty optimistic.”
On June 30, 2020, Jerry had a lobectomy, which removed half of his left lung. Due to the size of the tumor, Jerry was told he had stage 3 lung cancer. The surgeon felt confident that they had been able to remove the cancer, but the CCWW oncologist still felt Jerry should have chemotherapy as a precautionary step, to prevent recurrence. So, in mid-September, Jerry got his port and started chemo treatments. He had six treatments in all, administered every two weeks. There were issues with Jerry’s port, so three of the treatments ended up taking twice as long as planned. “I guess that’s why doctors tell you they ‘practice medicine,’” Jerry joked. “Actually, I think it was a mechanical issue,” he added. “I had complete confidence in the doctors and nurses at CCWW.”
At the same time, Jerry was invited to join a clinical trial for KEYTRUDA®, an intravenous immunotherapy medicine used to treat certain types of cancer. “I had a little hesitancy about being part of a clinical trial,” Jerry said. “But when I found out I’d be part of the control group, I thought, ‘why not?’ It meant I would have a whole other set of eyes watching me for five years. I’d get blood tests and scans every six months for the first two years, and then annually.”
During Jerry’s chemo treatments he felt tired and a little nauseous. “I was pretty dragged out,” Jerry said. “For the two days after each treatment, I wasn’t very ambitious. I didn’t get as sick as I imagined, but I did lose my hair. But hey, it came back!” he smiled.
Healing close to home
As Jerry looks back over the past few years, he feels grateful. The support of his wife and boys, and the doctors and nurses at CCWW, was vital. “It was a miracle that they discovered my tumor, and that cancer treatment has come so far. The medical advances today are incredible,” Jerry said.
“I’m so thankful we have CCWW here in Wisconsin. To have every health care service I need just a few miles away is fantastic,” Jerry said. “You get the same quality of care as you would in the Twin Cities. In fact, the oncologists at CCWW also work at Regions in St. Paul. To have this so close to home meant a lot.”
The future is bright
When asked how he’s feeling today, Jerry said with a twinkle in his eye, “Old!” He chuckled, “I think I’m in good shape for 74. There are creaks, but I’m active. I’m not one for sitting in a chair and letting the world go by.”
Jerry was able to have his shoulder replacement surgery on Dec. 1, 2020, about a month after completing the chemo treatments, and then started shoulder therapy. “I’m back to playing tennis and I swim a few times a week. I also do gardening and yard work,” he said.
“I may not have actually looked forward to coming to CCWW, but because of the medical team and the care I received,” he said with a wink, “I didn’t dread it either.”
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