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Jim - Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Jim - Merkel Cell Carcinoma

When entering into cancer treatment, fear and uncertainty can reign. But for Jim, “the proton therapy clinic addressed all of my concerns, they made me feel welcome and completely at home. One of the things I enjoyed the most about our experience was how my wife, Cheryle, was treated. During the entire process there was nothing but the finest support offered not only to me but her as well.”

Born in Olympia and raised in Sedro-Woolley, Jim moved to Omak in 1973 where he owned a clothing store and a Chrysler dealership before starting a 25-year lobbying career. One day, he found two strange bumps on his chin, which wouldn’t heal, and kept changing in size, from small to large and back again. When he went to the doctor in August 2017, the diagnosis was sobering: merkel cell carcinoma, a rare type of skin cancer.

Merkel cell carcinoma is typically a fast-growing, painless nodule on the skin and can appear as flesh-colored or in shades of red, blue or purple bumps on the face, head or neck. This type of skin cancer is about 40 times rarer than melanoma. It is aggressive, tending to grow quickly, and can rapidly spread to other parts of the body even with treatment, which is why early diagnosis is extremely important.

His doctors decided that in addition to surgery, radiation or chemotherapy would be needed. One of his doctors recommended that radiation would be best, and that proton therapy would be the best kind of radiation, because of its ability to precisely focus the radiation to the exact location of the cancer cells. 

Just three weeks after surgery, with his wife of 53 years by his side for every daily visit for six weeks, Jim started his proton therapy treatment process.

“I have worked sales a large part of my life,” says Jim. “I know the proton therapy center takes in hundreds and hundreds of people and I know that it can get old and boring, but when I walked in to the proton therapy center, there were three or four lovely ladies who greeted me, all of whom made me feel completely at home – within an hour I felt at home, I was already part of the culture.”

He felt this sense of community, professionalism and pleasantness throughout his treatment. He says that he looked forward to a cup of hot cocoa every day from the beverage bar and that if his wife had any questions, staff would bring her right in to address them. 

Jim recalls that he and his wife didn’t know what to expect, were they going to have to sell their house and their motor home to pay for the treatment? He was delighted when the center’s financial planner came and sat down with them and said, "let’s look at this very carefully.” To Jim, this was a big relief because he says, “they had my Medicare and supplemental coverage laid out and it was very clear what we could expect to pay.” Medicare and Jim’s supplemental insurance covered the proton therapy and Jim and his wife still live in their home.

At 73 years old, Jim is in remission and is still working as a lobbyist full time, traveling home to Omak on the weekends. Jim also continues to enjoy a passion - restoring tractors and cars. He and his wife love traveling the U.S. in their motor home and attending tractor and car shows.

“I’m still working and feel pretty good. Although, I’ve slowed down a bit, because I realize that I’m going to die someday and there are other things besides work I’d like to do before that.”

Thanks to proton therapy, he may get to a lot of “other things!”