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Finding a Home During Cancer

When Doug Middle discovered the lump along the left side of his neck, he was working hard to make himself a home.

A year ago, the Rock Valley, Iowa man was in the process of buying his 1956 ranch style house. He even started the first of several major renovations he had planned – an extra large garage with room for his fishing boat, outdoors gear and hunting equipment.

But a diagnosis of cancer quickly changed the both the location and idea of home for the 52-year-old man.

“Everything came to a stop,” says Doug, pointing to a project in-progress in his kitchen. “I didn’t expect to have to put all this stuff on hold.”

An early sign

Middle first noticed the lump on his neck in March of 2010. At that time, he was closing on his home and then jumped into a garage expansion, a home improvement project that got bigger than he intended when a load-bearing wall to the house gave way.

“I don’t have the greatest luck,” said the avid outdoorsman, who tells stories of getting attacked by a bear, having a deer hit his motorcycle and being bitten by bats on past outings. “My friends like to say that if you wonder if something is going to happen, send Doug in first. If something bad’s going to happen, it will happen to me.”

When he finally had the time to have lump on his neck biopsied in November, he was shocked to find out that the growth was cancerous. He underwent further surgery, the removal of six cancerous lymph nodes along the side of his neck, a procedure that required a 10-inch incision. Instead of working on his new home, Doug moved in with his parents to recuperate.

“I don’t sit still,” Doug said. “I’m a go-getter, so that was the hardest part.”

His cancer, a mucoepidermoid carcinoma, a tumor of the salivary glands, would require further treatment with chemotherapy and radiation. But he wouldn’t be the only one in his family needing to visit the hospital.

Family treatment

At the same time that Doug was scheduled to start his treatments in Sioux Falls, his mother, Katheron Middle, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She also needed radiation and would have to travel the hour-long drive five days in a row during her weeks of radiation treatment.

Doug’s patient navigators at Sanford Cancer Center helped the mother and son set their radiation treatments back-to-back, so they could go together. He would take his treatments first and then bring in his mother to follow with her radiation therapy in the same room.

“People would ask me how long my treatment was,” Doug said. “I just knew that it’s about four country western songs or so.”

After starting his chemotherapy in January, Doug learned that his body reacted violently to the drugs, making him unable to keep down any food or liquid for 24 to 36 hours. His patient navigator had already made arrangements for Doug and his mother to stay in a furnished apartment less than a half of a block from the hospital during the weeks he was getting his radiation and chemo. The accommodations nearby made it possible for him to get immediate medical help on the days that his body didn’t cooperate. The rooms became a familiar home with everything they needed to rest and recover after a day at the hospital.

“I’m not sure how I would have done it without it,” said Doug. “Plenty of people volunteered to drive us back and forth, but I wanted to have my freedom and not rely on people every day.”

A bright future

In March, scans of the area where Doug had been treated for his tumor showed that the treatment appears to have worked. He will go back for further scans to make sure that the cancer is completely gone. For now, the end of his treatments means a move back toward independence and his old life.

Doug is now regaining his strength and working toward moving back into his own home. He’s looking forward to the chance to finish his renovations and put his plans in action for more hunting and fishing trips. He’s grateful for the chance he has finish healing and see where life takes him, he says.

“Life doesn’t stop,” he said. “Cancer might hit you like a ton of bricks, but you pick up and move on.”

Posted Date: May 2011