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A Reason to Trust

Gale Hansen is a highly trained craftsman who has earned the trust of his colleagues in the aircraft industry.

The Valley City man is one of a few select technicians in the region with the certification and skills needed to upholster airplanes, machine aircraft parts and do precision welding on planes. Every material he uses and every part he touches needs to be carefully logged, documented and inspected for safety reasons.

“I like the challenge and the precision of the work,” says Hansen, from his fabrication workshop. “I have to watch my P’s and Q’s and it’s part of the job that I like.”

The 55-year-old Commercial pilot, mechanic and creative innovator has a respect for people who stay on the edge of advancements in their field. When he needed medical treatment for a rare form of tonsil cancer, he was looking for someone who cared as much about the technical details as he does everyday.

“Where I work, our customers’ lives depend on our quality of work, along with our ongoing updates of training and diagnostic equipment,” Gale said. “It’s absolutely no different at Sanford. I knew I could trust them every step of the way.”

A surprising diagnosis

Gale began his career as a heavy equipment operator, taking classes to feed his natural curiosity about electronics, computerized drafting and welding during his winter-off season. He had just started working full-time at the Fargo Jet Center when his cancer was diagnosed.

About four years ago, Gale had an enlarged tonsil. At his age, he expected the suggested tonsillectomy to be a necessary, but unpleasant experience. However, after the operation his doctors discovered he had tonsil cancer that had spread to the surrounding throat area.

Gale was introduced to Sanford oncologist Dr. Dennis Bier. The technician had started researching his condition, but felt confused and overwhelmed with questions. Gale left his first consultation at the Roger Maris Cancer Center knowing that his treatment would sometimes be difficult, but Dr. Bier and the rest of his team knew what needed to be done to treat his cancer.

Trusting in the treatment

Dr. Bier explained to Gale that his cancer needed to be treated with radiation to the throat area, a treatment that can be “brutal, yet effective,” the patient says. Gale peppered the oncologist with questions every visit and was quickly impressed with the way that the specialist answered everything he asked.

“Dr. Bier would answer any question and spelled everything out for me,” Gale said. “Everything he told me was true and something I could rely on.”

Gale started a seven-week regimen that included 33 radiation treatments. He struggled to eat and drink as he sustained internal and external burns to the area along with extreme dry mouth. He had lost about 90 percent of his sense of taste and the remaining left had everything tasting dirty and sort of metallic. Even with his best efforts, he dropped about 72 pounds.

But even during the worst days, Gale said he had confidence that his Sanford medical team would help him get better. His employers at the Fargo Jet Center gave him complete support while he recovered enough strength to make it through the day. And the treatments did what they were supposed to do – eliminating all signs of cancer in his body.

“People would tell me that they wanted to pray for me,” Gale says. “I’d thank them, but ask them to pray for somebody else who really needs it. There are so many people with problems much worse than I had.”

Living cancer-free

Today, Gale has gained back about half of the weight and taste he lost during his treatment and goes in for just a yearly checkup to make sure he is still cancer free. A pilot for over 36 years, he had to ground himself when the cancer was diagnosed, but now is free to work to regain his license through a special issuance medical waiver from the FAA.

“I’m back to doing my work and my hobbies,” Gale said. “I do a lot of drawing, art, upholstery, photography, precision shooting and even teaching people how to do my trades. Every time I talk about picking up a new hobby, my wife just rolls her eyes.”

Gale said the support he received from family, friends and his medical team has helped him make a full recovery. He often talks to other people about his experience with his cancer and the professional, caring treatment he received.

“People are real skeptical about the medical field, but I know at Sanford it was the trust that led to my recovery,” Gale said. “I had no doubts that I could trust them with my life and I did.”

Posted Date: February 2012