My Knight Cancer Story: John Gragg

John Gragg - September 2010John is a two-time cancer survivor. After recovering from surgery for prostate cancer in January of 1999, at the age of 57, John was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the following June. He says he’s fortunate to be able to share his story, and credits his doctors, nurses, and solid family support for his success at beating cancer twice. John and his companion, Susanne, enjoy traveling when they’re not working at home on seven acres just north of Vancouver, WA.

I was just recovering from my prostate cancer surgery when I noticed my energy level drop. My partner Susanne was moving to Vancouver from Arizona, and I felt bad that I didn’t have the energy to help her. She told me I was turning yellow. I didn’t want to see anything unusual in the mirror.

“You are jaundiced, and you will call a doctor,” she announced.

I saw Don Girard, M.D.  who lined me up with gastroenterologist Brian Fennerty, M.D. Tests showed I had pancreatic cancer. Back in 1998 when I learned I had prostate cancer, it was a shock. But nothing compared to hearing Brian say “pancreatic cancer.” It was pretty scary. I knew the odds. I was in denial. Susanne did all the work: she got on the internet, listened closely when my doctors spoke, asked lots of questions.

The question was whether I was a good candidate for surgery. Turned out I was. Brett Sheppard, M.D., told me I had the choice of having surgery or not. To me, it was a no-brainer; I wanted to do everything I could to live. The surgery was performed in August, 1999.

Dr. Sheppard and his team were great. He is a masterful surgeon, but he also has the keen ability to relate to people in a warm, reassuring way. My surgery went very well. I recovered at OHSU for ten days. The entire experience was so positive that one of my doctors told me I looked as though I was on vacation. Chemo and radiation treatments were next. My medical oncologist was Charles Blanke, M.D. Dr. Blanke guided my recovery. The nurses in the infusion clinic were so kind – I almost looked forward to my chemo because of them. And Dr. Holland and his team in radiation medicine were just wonderful.

Susanne helped me stay focused on what I could do, which was to pretty much take care of myself: rest, exercise, show up for treatments and just concentrate on getting well. My son Chris and daughter Sarah were also helpful, joining me on long walks, etc.  My management and coworkers at Tektronix in Beaverton were also just great, covering for me while I was gone, letting me have the time to recover and welcoming me back when I was well enough to return.

Slowly, I got better. In six months, Susanne and I were on a real vacation in Hawaii, so grateful for the gift of life and the doctors who saved me.