Colon Surgery and Chemotherapy Got John Pohanka Back on the Trail
John Pohanka of Midland is an active 69-year-old who hiked 130 miles this winter after recovering from colon cancer that was diagnosed and successfully treated at MidMichigan Medical Center – Midland.
After work one Thursday afternoon in November 2012, Pohanka passed a large amount of blood. He went to see his primary care physician who sent him directly to the Medical Center in Midland. By Monday, he was scheduled for surgery, and late that night, after a full day of surgery, Colorectal Surgeon George Zainea, M.D., had removed nine inches of Pohanka’s colon and reconnected the remaining colon.
“He had done a full day of surgery and fit me in at 10 p.m., which I found amazing,” Pohanka said. “I spent six days in the hospital. The care I received was incredible. I couldn’t ask for better care. I was visited every day by a physician or physician assistant.”
While in the hospital, Pohanka met Medical Oncologist Syed Hassan, M.D., who recommended chemotherapy. After recovering from the surgery for about a month, Pohanka received a port in his chest and began chemotherapy at the Infusion Center on the campus of MidMichigan Medical Center – Midland. “That experience could not have been better. Dr. Hassan; his nurse, Elizabeth; social worker Agnes and Infusion Center Nursing Supervisor Katie were all fantastic.”
Pohanka does remember that three days of chemotherapy could be rough. “But to me that was a pittance to pay,” he said. He went to the Infusion Center every other week for four hours then went home with an infusion pump for two more days.
“The pump meant I could continue with my life in an almost completely normal fashion. I was able to work and to ice fish in the winter.
“The real surprise was that Dr. Hassan arranged for me to receive chemotherapy in Arizona when we were out there. When I arrived at the Infusion Center in Green Valley, Arizona, and gave the receptionist my name she said, ‘We’ve been expecting you.’ ”
Also during treatment, Pohanka was evaluated for the Survivor Training and Cancer Rehabilitation (STAR) program offered throughout MidMichigan Health. STAR helps cancer survivors maintain and build strength and stamina while undergoing cancer treatment and afterwards. Although Pohanka regularly exercised during treatment anyway, he said, “I always recommend STAR because I think that it’s the key to successful recovery.”
Last summer Pohanka was finished with treatments. After a series of tests that all came back negative, there were no traces of cancer cells. He will have regular check-ups every three months for two years, then every six months for three years. “I have been very pleased with the whole treatment.”
Now, Pohanka is back on the trail. “My wife, Mardie, and I do a lot of walking and hiking. We hiked about 100 miles last winter on day hikes in the rugged Arizona mountains and 30 miles more in the desert over a period of seven weeks.” At home, he and Mardie walk three miles per day, and he’s back to work at Ware Smith Woolever Funeral Home, his retirement job after 35 years as a Lutheran minister.
Pohanka believes in the power of prayer and felt it during his illness. “It was a great strength and comfort knowing that countless people were praying for me. Plus, my wife was in the medical field so she could be supportive, and my younger daughter sent me presents during every chemotherapy treatment. Once it was ice fishing clothes and another was a whole smoked turkey. It was something to look forward to.”
Now Pohanka said that he feels excellent. As an avid fisherman, he is looking forward to a summer of fishing from Midland to Lake Gogebic in the Upper Peninsula and on rivers in-between. “My experience of cancer treatment with MidMichigan Health has enabled me to be healthy and active again.”
Those interested in more information about MidMichigan Physicians Group General Surgeon George Zainea, M.D., and Medical Oncologist Syed Hassan, M.D., may visit www.midmichigan.org/doctors.