The Saratoga Sun -

Green for Garry

Routine operation reveals cancer, which leads to community aid and eventual recovery


Courtesy Liz Wood

The Bird and the Bear, aka: Garry and Mirthe Wood play at a "Green for Garry" thank you concert Dec. 21 at the Platte Valley Community Center.

"It was supposed to be a hernia," Garry Wood says. "A simple, outpatient procedure." But when he woke up after his hernia operation, he learned it wasn't a hernia at all, but a swollen lymph node.

Swollen lymph nodes can mean several things, many as simple as a flu or other infection, or a minor injury. But it can mean a lot more than that, and when Wood came out of the anesthesia, his wife told him what the surgeon said.

"It was lymphoma," Wood said. "That was the surgeon's hunch."

The surgeon had taken a lymph node out and sent it to be tested.

A week later, the surgeon's hunch was confirmed, and Wood had a diagnosis from an oncologist from Skyline Hospital in Madison, Tennessee, just outside Nashville; he had Hodgkin's Lymphoma, stage 3S.

"From the initial (outpatient) surgery until they had the (chemotherapy) port installed, it was three weeks," he says. "It was a very harsh (chemotherapy) cocktail."

But, Garry says, as much as the thought of having cancer at 26 and having to suffer the side effects of chemotherapy, there was one thing that was instrumental in helping him cope, and that was the sense of community and caring he experienced when the people of the Valley joined together to help him and his family out,during a time of need.

To Garry, coming from the Valley means a lot. Had he grown up where he lives now, the Nashville area, where there may not have been as strong a sense of community, he is not sure he would have done as well in his treatments as he has.

"I really don't believe I'd have done as well as I did without the support that everybody offered, and not just financially, but in messages, cards and email and just, it really put together for me the perspective of community,' Garry said. "I think now, as people talk about a life-perspective changing through events like this, I think for me that's how to be a member of this community and how to give back."

To give back to the community, Garry and his family held a concert at the PVCC Wednesday, with a free lasagna meal. "The community has always been there for me," he says. "I am completely consumed with gratitude that my mind could be put in the place of community instead of cancer."

When he was on chemotherapy, he said, the support of the Valley community is what helped him get through the ordeal. Rather than focusing on the chemotherapy and what physical damage it was doing in its quest to kill cancer cells, he focused on the sense of community caring that came from friends back in the Valley.

"It was a rush of thoughts and kind of the-it's like a mess of wires being tangled," Garry said about being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 26. "People talk about it (cancer) being a battle, but it's not just a life on the line but being able to give back and say thank you."

Garry says that it was the generosity of the people of the Valley and of the Affordable Care Act that provided the real miracles in his case. Garry and his wife found an insurance policy on the health insurance exchange that paid most of his expenses, meaning that the support he received from people back home could be used to pay premiums and supplement the family's income that had been cut due to Garry's illness.

On May 16, Garry received news from his doctor that his cancer was in clinical remission. Garry knew that clinical remission was not the same as "cured." There are numerous clinical measurements that come into play when deciding whether cancer is in remission or not. Often, cancer is said to be in remission when it is no longer spreading.

He told his friends and family the news, but was quite reserved about it, he said.

His doctor told him to take his family on vacation, and he did. Upon returning home to Nashville, Garry heard from his doctors that, after a follow-up scan, his cancer had been declared in full remission.

But Garry is still nervous about using those words. Having cancer and surviving, he said, has made him slightly more superstitious a person. "I've become a very nervous person, so I'm afraid to 'jinx' anything," he said. "I think there's a lot of luck that goes into it, and I definitely feel fortunate."

Being from the Valley is one of the blessings Garry counts. "I feel blessed that I don't (have to worry about a lack of support by the community) that there are the people in my life who have done what they did."

For the young couple, the care given by residents of the Valley has left an indelible mark on Garry. The experience, he said, has changed his outlook on life. "It has (changed my outlook). As far as treating people one-on-one, I'm trying to be a better person; just recognizing how much people have helped me out through life, and yeah, feeling guilt for not expressing that gratitude and finding ways to do that."

"They call it 'chemo brain'," he says. It's a state where thoughts and feelings are tangled, and it's a common side effect of chemotherapy. But the sense of community shared by residents of the Valley has had a grounding effect on him, Garry says.

The experience, he said, gave him the ability to recognize the importance of community. "Being able to keep my heart in that place (community) even if my thoughts or actions of giving back may be flawed."

But if there were any flaws in Garry's way of giving back, they weren't evident at the thank you dinner held Wednesday at the PVCC. The dinner was filled with about 60 people who showed up just to enjoy one simple thing: the feeling of community that comes with helping others.


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