Just three weeks after their wedding, newlyweds Dan and Melanie Hedlund were in for some startling news—Dan had osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
“It was pretty shocking,” says Dan. “We were still in the honeymoon phase of life and excited about starting our lives together. We didn’t know what to expect.”
A second opinion brought Dan to Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI). “I feel comfortable putting my life in the hands of these doctors any day of the week,” he says. “They’re not just good at what they do, they’re passionate about what they do.”
Because of his age and strong overall health, Dan’s physician, Lor Randall, MD, director of Sarcoma Services at HCI and an associate professor in the Department of Orthopaedics at the University of Utah, chose an aggressive treatment regimen. Dan says it’s been rough, but he’s up to the challenge. “He’s not trying to extend my life by a couple of years, he’s trying to cure me. Because I was so young, we didn’t have to be conservative.”
Dan has undergone surgery and chemotherapy, and has responded well to treatment. He and his medical team are optimistic about his prognosis.
“I haven’t been that worried cancer would take my life. I’ve tried to get busy living. Even if I only had a one-percent chance, somebody has to be that one percent. Why not me?”
MaryAnn Gerber loved the way she looked with a tan. As a teenager, she visited a tanning salon almost every week. A few years later she noticed a pink mole on her face. The look of it bothered her, so she visited a plastic surgeon to have it removed, only to discover it was a malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.
“I was vain about having a tan and that same vanity drove me to the plastic surgeon when I noticed a mole. Vanity almost killed me and vanity saved my life.”
Gerber was diagnosed with stage III melanoma at the age of 24. Since no one in her family had a history of skin cancer, she and her physicians believe tanning led to her disease. Typically, melanoma at such a young age is caused by a genetic mutation. “My grandfather was a farmer and worked out in the sun all his life, but he wore hats and long sleeves. He never got skin cancer but I had it as a young woman—I’m certain because of tanning.” Two surgeries later, Gerber is left with a six-inch scar that runs down her left cheek. “It used to bother me, but now I wear it as a badge of honor. It gives me the opportunity to talk about skin cancer and sun safety when people ask me about it.”
Gerber is part of an outreach team at Huntsman Cancer Institute that calls itself “Ten Young Women against Skin Cancer.” All the group members were diagnosed with skin cancer at early ages. All believe unsafe sun exposure and tanning led to their disease, and now they speak out to discourage other people, particularly young women, from tanning. They also promote sun safety, which includes wearing sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, and long sleeves when outdoors for long periods. “I’m not that much older than the girls I speak to, and they can see that if it can happen to me, it can happen to them. Nearly losing your life for a tan is definitely not worth it.”
Monte Bona was “raised to be a cowboy.” Born in Payson, Utah, he grew up in the small farming community with his parents and five siblings. “My dad was a horse trader and I had my first pair of cowboy boots when I was probably three years old.” Beyond the boots, Monte exemplifies aspects of a traditional cowboy in other ways: self-reliance and individualism, with the ability to dust himself off when times get tough and get right back in the saddle.
In March 2009 at the age of 71, he had a health check-up which included blood work. He received a clean bill of health. Only a month later, Monte noticed a lump in his groin and visited his primary care physician. His physician suspected it might be an aneurysm, but a biopsy in late April confirmed follicular lymphoma—Stage I Grade 3, the earliest stage a cancer can be found, but a grade showing an aggressive form of the disease.
“Other than a lump, I had no symptoms,” Monte says. “I didn’t panic because even though they told me I had cancer, I hadn’t been sick. It wasn’t until later that I realized how serious it was.”
Follicular lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma—cancers of the immune system that begin in white blood cells called lymphocytes. Non-Hodgkin's lymphomas can be aggressive (fast-growing) or indolent (slow-growing), and develop from either B-cells (as in follicular lymphoma) or T-cells.
After being referred to Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) for consultation and treatment, Monte met with Martha Glenn, MD, medical oncologist at HCI and associate professor in the Division of Hematology and Hematologic Malignancies/Oncology at the University of Utah. “When I asked what would happen if I didn’t treat the cancer, I was told I’d have three months to a year,” Monte explains. With the encouraging news that his stage and grade of follicular lymphoma typically responded very well to treatment (not to mention the insistence of his wife and grown children), Monte opted for it. He received a two-month regimen of chemotherapy followed by a month of daily radiation.
Other than losing his hair (which grew back thicker, curly, and silver rather than salt-and-pepper) with occasional bouts of tiredness and nausea, treatment went well. Monte believes proactive nutrition played a role, along with being in good physical shape, taking vitamins, and going regularly for health check-ups. In addition, he says, “I felt that I really lucked out. I had the benefit of early detection.”
September 2010 marks 16 months since Monte’s diagnosis and 13 months since he completed treatment. His last follow-up with Dr. Glenn shows he’s in the clear. “I’m really hopeful and optimistic—probably because I feel so good!” he says. When asked what insight he’d have for others diagnosed with cancer, Monte says, “Don’t panic. Seek to be someone who places a high premium on quality of life and being able to contribute. I did that.”
And he continues to do it. Monte and his wife Jackie spend their time between Salt Lake City and Mount Pleasant, Utah—a small town that reminds him of his boyhood. There, he is active in government, interested in historic preservation, and involved with the Utah Heritage Highway 89 Alliance, a group dedicated to conserving and promoting the roadway that stretches through central Utah. And, he’s even dusted off the boots.
“One of my buddies—I’ve known him for a long time—tells me I put on my cowboy boots and spit death in the eye!” Spoken like a true cowboy.