“I’m in awe! Humble, grateful, and blessed!” These are the sentiments shared by Jeff as he reflects on his cancer journey, a significant turning point in his life that unfolded in the year 2016.
During that transformative year, Jeff experienced numerous changes. He relocated his family to a new house after 17 years, transitioned to a different occupation, and embarked on a new career path after 27 years as a news anchor. Additionally, his daughter Tori began attending a new middle school. However, amidst these transitions, a dark cloud loomed.
While enjoying a delightful family beach trip, Jeff discovered a bump on his stomach, which caught his attention as something unusual. Although he didn’t initially worry too much about the bump, he decided to visit his primary care doctor for a check-up. The doctor suggested it could be a skin tag or a cyst, dismissing any concerns. After all, cancer didn’t run in Jeff’s family. Little did he know that September would bring unforeseen challenges.
Soon after, Jeff started experiencing abnormal bowel movements, which he attempted to address by adding Metamucil to his routine. Unfortunately, the issue persisted and prompted a referral to a gastroenterologist. Jeff had not had the age 50 colon cancer screening, so a colonoscopy was scheduled to investigate further. However, he began to bleed during the procedure, leading to his hospitalization.
As an in-patient, Jeff was introduced to a hospital oncology surgeon who suspected cancer as the cause. Subsequently, he was referred to the care of Dr. Favaro, a medical oncologist at Oncology Specialists of Charlotte (OSC), whom Jeff considers a godsend. On October 12, 2016, Jeff received the official diagnosis of advanced stage IV mucosa melanoma in the rectum, with the cancer having metastasized to other parts of his body.
Facing such a daunting prognosis, Jeff and his wife, Victoria, visited Dr. Favaro, seeking hope and answers. Although Dr. Favaro couldn’t promise a cure, he instilled confidence in his ability to provide long-term management and treatment. Witnessing his wife’s anguish throughout this process weighed heavily on Jeff, as he despised seeing the impact it had on her and feared losing the love of his life.
Reflecting on the sequence of events, Jeff realized that the discovery of a skin bump on his abdomen aligned with the changes he had noticed in his bowel movements and stools. His instincts were validated as the undetermined cancer in his rectum had spread to his abdomen, causing the skin bump. Further scans revealed metastasis to his liver, kidney, and spine. While a dermatologist easily removed the abdominal bump, aggressive treatment was required for the affected organs.
To devise an appropriate treatment plan, Dr. Favaro presented Jeff’s case to the tumor board, seeking expert insights. Jeff holds Dr. Favaro in high regard, describing him as an exceptional oncologist whose skill and dedication are truly remarkable.
Thus, the treatment journey began. Jeff underwent radiation therapy targeting the rectal area, followed by infusion immunotherapy, an agent that works with the immune system to fight off cancer cells. The cutting-edge immunotherapy treatment involved combining Opdivo and Yervoy, showcasing promising research results. Jeff received 49 Opdivo treatments every other week, starting in November of the same year. Subsequently, he underwent radiation on his liver in June 2017, and on November 28, 2017, scans confirmed that the tumors had been defeated, marking him as cancer-free. However, to ensure that the cancer wouldn’t return, Dr. Favaro planned a maintenance therapy of Opdivo for another 18 months. He completed his immunotherapy schedule on May 7, 2019, and joyfully “rang the bell.” By continuing this treatment, the goal was to reduce the risk of a potential recurrence. Despite the challenges of immunotherapy drugs, Jeff was grateful that he didn’t lose his hair, a common side effect of many cancer treatments.
With gratitude, Jeff acknowledges that he is blessed beyond belief. A man of faith, he found solace in a Bible verse that seemingly spoke to him during his early days of diagnosis, Psalm 118:17: “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” This verse served as a powerful affirmation that he would overcome his battle with cancer. Jeff attributes his positive attitude, healthy habits, and unwavering support from his family, friends, and church community as instrumental in his journey.
Throughout his cancer treatments, Jeff remained committed to his work. His employer, Wingate University, where he holds positions as VP for Strategic Partnerships in the Office of the President and VP of the Jesse Helms Center, demonstrated not only understanding but unwavering support for his cancer journey.
Looking back, Jeff considers his cancer journey a profound and transformative experience, despite the challenges of treatment. He feels incredibly fortunate to have received care from the outstanding team at OSC, who demonstrated exceptional skill and compassion. At one point, when Jeff struggled to meet the substantial treatment costs, the OSC team helped him participate in clinical trials for Opdivo, significantly reducing the financial burden.
This life-altering experience has inspired Jeff to be even more mindful of healthy living, focusing on a nutritious diet and maintaining fitness. He has fully completed his treatments and now undergoes CT scans every six months, transitioning to annual scans once he reaches the No Evidence of Disease (NED) stage. Overflowing with gratitude, Jeff exclaims, “This was a God thing! Good Lord, good medicine, good care, good doctors, and I love all the staff at OSC. I can’t thank them enough.” This appreciation has driven him to reach out to other cancer patients, offering support and encouragement.