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A Cancer Survivor Looks Back

Carl Sad noticed the strange groin pain at the end of his senior year in high school. He’d just finished baseball season and looked forward to graduation, a couple weeks of vacation and summer construction work.

“I blew the pain off, but it got worse,” he says. “I remember the morning in June when I woke up and could barely get out of bed. My hips, groin, stomach -- everything just hurt. Somehow I made it downstairs to where my dad was reading the newspaper. I told him I couldn’t go to work and needed to see a doctor.”

A doctor’s appointment that same day in Valley City, N.D., led to a next-day appointment at Sanford Urology in Fargo followed by tests at Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center. The diagnosis? Testicular cancer.

“It hit me like a brick wall,” says Carl. “It was like, what are you talking about? I’m healthy!”

Surgery took place that day. Subsequent tests showed the cancer had spread along the spine, prompting another surgery and the need for chemotherapy. For weeks he made daily trips from his hometown of Dazey, N.D., to the Cancer Center to get outpatient chemotherapy.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” he says. “Just two surgeries and one round of chemo and I was done. Sure I went through hair loss, difficulty eating, weight loss, anger, the whole bit. But I knew what would happen if I stopped treatment -- it wasn’t an option.”

Support surrounded him. “My family was the best. Even when I was at my crankiest, they stuck by me,” he says. “Friends rooted me on, saying you can do this. People from Dazey called and said hang in there. And the Cancer Center staff was great. These were people who cared. They’d do whatever they could for you, emotionally or physically. I’m alive because of them and I couldn’t be more thankful.”

“It all came back…”

Today Carl is a 40-year-old cancer survivor. Last July he visited the Cancer Center to help celebrate its anniversary -- 20 years of providing comprehensive, compassionate care to people throughout the region.

So what was it like for Carl to come back decades later? For starters, it was more emotional than he ever imagined.

“The fear, the anxiety, the butterflies in my stomach -- I felt all of them. It was so overwhelming to walk into that place,” says Carl. “But when I saw Dr. Geeraarts smile, then I saw my favorite nurse, Claudia, I lost it. They were such good friends to me and my family.”

Sanford oncologist Dr. Louis Geeraerts and Claudia Axvig have cared for many people since the Cancer Center opened in 1990, but Carl was among the first. In fact he was a patient even before the Cancer Center officially opened.

“Back then I saw bare sheetrock and wires because they were still building,” says Carl, laughing. “This place has come a long way.” Examples include an expanded infusion center, many more oncologists, highly specialized programs, and impressive array of credentials and awards.

Carl, too, has come a long way. Says Dr. Geeraerts: “It makes us happy when people get past treatment and move on with their lives, especially a person as young as Carl. He went on to build a life.”

A cherished life

Today Carl lives in Cooperstown, N.D., with his wife, Kerry, and their 1-year-old daughter. A chiropractor in Devils Lake, he brings the spirit of a champion to each day.

"People say, 'Man you're in a good mood.' Of course I'm in a good mood. I'm still here," he says. "After cancer, you don't take anything for granted, even 20 years later."

Posted Date: March 2011