For one South Logan County Relay for Life honorary chairperson, when it comes to something like cancer, he’s been there, done that. For the other, the selection is almost embarrassing.
Leslie Oliver had skin cancer, had it removed and has gone on with life that already included an interest in events like the Relay for Life.
On the other hand, Jack Weisenbach has beaten cancer, twice. He’s endured a hip replacement, quadruple bypass heart surgery and has a pair of artificial shoulders.
Even published notoriety is nothing new. Weisenbach was once the subject of a New York Times piece on lung cancer survivors.
Weisenbach was first diagnosed with cancer in 2001 in a whirlwind of a day.
“I feel kind of fortunate. I went into an emergency room on Friday morning and by six o’clock that night my surgery was all over. I didn’t have a long waiting period to go home and contemplate, oh, I’ve got cancer,” said Weisenbach. “The test came back cancer and they said ‘we need to get that blockage out of there right of way.’”
Still he was surprised.
“It was one of those things when they told me I had cancer I was like, not me, that’s something everybody else gets,” recalls Weisenbach.
He would be surprised again that day when he awoke to find he was missing a colostomy bag. The thought was it was too bad to operate. Instead the pieces of the colon fit together so nicely, there was no need for the bag.
The cancer turned out to be a blessing, Weisenbach insists. That’s because, told to discontinue an aspirin regimen for blood thinning purpose because it would interfere with the chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Weisenbach did so and 10 days later had a heart attack.
“If I hadn’t had the cancer I would have never known I had blockages,” said Weisenbach.
After letting the chemotherapy clear his system, then came the quadruple bypass surgery.
With such a story to tell, and having been retired since 1998, Weisenbach did just that. Already a volunteer with physical therapy patients in light of his hip replacement, Weisenbach started volunteering at the heart center at Mercy Hospital.
“I started volunteering at the heart center and if any cancer patients came in I could talk to them about having it, going through chemotherapy and radiation, and I’m alive and I’m still kicking,” said Weisenbach. “Basically with the attitude that if you don’t fight it, it’s going to beat you.”
“Cancer will win if you don’t fight it.”
Turns out it was a good thought to keep in mind.
“They always say if you go in remission for about five years, you pretty much have it whipped and it’s gone,” said Weisenbach. “I went four years and 10 months. I was watching the calendar and thought I’m coming up on (five years).”
In a doctor’s office for what had become a routine visit, Weisenbach had an x-ray and something showed up on a lung. A biopsy showed it was a malignant tumor. He was told that it is common for colon cancer to metasticise itself in the lung if it returns.
The second surgery to remove the cancer did not necessitate radiation.
Weisenbach had a checkup last week. He is almost seven years removed from his second bout with the disease, although he has had both shoulders replaced in that time.
Though now 75, Weisenbach has continued to volunteer to tell his story. He also took up umpiring high school baseball.
“I do all this because I want people to realize when you have these medical things — and I know everybody is not the same — it’s not the end of the world and a lot of it is your attitude,” he said. “If your attitude is positive and you’re going to get out there and whip this thing and you’re not going to let it affect your life that drastically. I realize everybody can’t do that. Sometimes their cancer is worse, sometimes the don’t respond to their treatment.
“I think this is part of why maybe God selected me to do these things because he knew that I was going to try to help others through it if they get it as opposed to withdrawing.”
Again, there’s no problem with Weisenbach on that front. He has spoken at Relay team captain meetings been interviewed for the Times piece and radio broadcasts.
He also likes to highlight the caregiver.
“The person that gets the cancer gets treated and the nurses and doctors and everybody takes care of them, but they don’t think too much about the caregiver,” said Weisenbach. “That person that is a caregiver or is a family member that has to see one of their loved ones going through cancer, to me that’s harder and that caregiver needs to get a lot more recognition than they do.”
In his case that was his wife Gail.
Weisenbach said he was honored to receive the chairperson designation. Oliver, not so much.
“I feel like an impostor,” said Oliver. “I’ve not had chemo, I’ve not had radiation like so many people have. I’m embarrassed to have this honor. It shouldn’t be me.”
Oliver said she tried to get organizers to pick someone else but they insisted she “let them honor me,” for her continued efforts for Relay.
Oliver had skin cancer in 2008.
“I noticed something that didn’t looked right, went to the dermatologist and he said ‘yep’ and sliced it off,” said Oliver. “He said ‘you have the wrong kind of skin to be out in the sun.”
Her daughter has since ended an affiliation with tanning beds.
Oliver said she participates in Relay because her father lost his mother at the age of 2 to Leukemia, her other grandmother had colon cancer, her mother has had several cancers, but chiefly is her daughter’s best friend from college.
“Brittany was her roommate then her housemate and then Lesia got married and in 2008 right at Thanksgiving was diagnosed with Leukemia,” said Oliver. “On Saturday she was having a blood transfusion.
“In December 2009 we went to her funeral. She was 25 years old, we should have been going to her wedding, not her funeral.