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A Recipe for Treating Cancer

Terry Grosz cracks open a fresh jar of homemade pickles, holding one up in front of his wife, Sam’s nose. They giggle just a little bit while she takes a snappy bite.

Half-gallon and quart-sized glass jars cover the kitchen counter in front of the couple who host an annual Pickle Packin’ Party, an event where family and friends get together making tangy dill pickles using over 90 bushels of cucumbers and a secret family recipe. Their count this year: 2,855 jars.

“These ain’t bad at all,” Terry says, taking his own crisp bite after giving his wife a quick peck on the cheek.

The pickle party is a tradition his family started in 1994, so there was no way that he was going to let something like a diagnosis of cancer in his jaw get in the way.

“I enjoy my life, whether I’m making pickles or drilling wells or drag car racing,” says Terry. “I knew I had a lot to live for.”

Getting the news

The 69-year-old man who runs a well-drilling business in Delmont, SD, showed no signs of health problems before he started noticing a few drops of dried blood on his lip and pillow in the morning. He made an appointment with Dr. Greg DeSautel, a Sanford Ear Nose and Throat specialist who had treated him for ear problems in the past.

Terry never expected his diagnosis to be cancer, a tumor that had included his upper and lower jaw. He had his lowest moment at the beginning, when he got the news in a phone call from the clinic.

He turned to his wife that day in January 2011, one tear in his eye, and told her the news. He had an appointment scheduled the next day, but he already knew one thing, he says.

“I told her if they can’t do anything for me, I’ll find someone who can,” Terry says. “I knew that I wasn’t going to let this get me down.”

A plan of action

Terry met with maxillofacial surgeons Dr. W. Chad Spanos and Dr. John Lee, who explained that he needed immediate surgery to remove the cancer. During a 15-hour procedure, the doctors took out portions of his upper and lower jaw and several teeth.

They reconstructed his face using a portion of the fibula from his left leg to replace the missing jawbone. He had no hesitation going into the surgery about how it would work or what he would look like afterward.

“I wasn’t worried about it, because everything was done so professionally,” Terry says. “I had the most respect for these guys going in, so I knew they’d take care of me.”

When he woke up from his anesthesia, he was ready to move on to the next stage, seven weeks of concurrent chemotherapy and radiation. Terry would stay in Sioux Falls during the week, his Monday afternoon radiation treatment was followed by four more sessions, and then he’d come home on the weekends.

The treatments saved his life, eradicating all signs of the cancer, but they did leave side effects – difficulty eating and swallowing and changes in the way things tasted. But throughout the process he was determined to stay positive and concentrate on getting back to the things he liked.

“I lost about 30 to 40 pounds, but I could stand to lose a few,” he says, patting his stomach with a smile. “I just know that four or five years ago they wouldn’t have been able to do the things they can do for me today.”

Just like Mayberry

The people who cared for him at Sanford were the kind of people he would gladly invite to come join him at the community center to make some jars of pickles, he jokes. Everyone he encountered at Sanford Health reminded him of the people of “Mayberry,” the friendly town in the Andy Griffith show, he says.

“Everybody knows everyone. Everybody is everybody’s friend. Everybody is kind to everyone,” Terry says. “I felt like I made a bunch of new friends."

Terry is back to doing all the things he loves to do. He gets great satisfaction from digging wells, helping his customers provide their farms or homes with good water. He backs his fully restored 69 Chevy Nova out of the trailer where he stores it between races to show it off.

“Four speed, high-ho and away we go,” he says, slipping behind the wheel.

Last summer Terry was able to continue to host the pickle party, greeting friends and family as they sorted cucumbers after cleaning them three to five gallons a time through the rinse/spin cycle of a washing machine. The July event is something he looks forward to all year long.

It was even more fun this year, as he feels as good as he ever did, he says. He invites more people each year to the party, but the recipe for the pickles stays a family secret, he says.

“This didn’t slow me down,” Terry says, holding up a jar. “There’s plenty more pickles to be made.”

Posted Date: September 2012