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Cancer survivor owes life to Relay

--- Lakes Area Relay for Life is July 27-28

Donna Lenz Wright/The Week

(Published July 23, 2007, 3:36 p.m.)

One year ago Tom Enloe was skating through his 59th year of life, enjoying his 27th year as husband to Vicky, working hard in his 33rd year in banking as vice president of the Community Bank of Delavan and getting in a few holes of golf when he could.

"I had never been in the hospital one day in my life. I never broke a bone, never had an operation-nothing."

So when his voice went hoarse for a few days he stopped into the local drug store for lozenges. When that didn't help he went to the doctor, then a specialist, then another who called him Aug. 4, 2006 with the diagnosis of cancer.

"I got the phone call," Enloe said, followed by a long pause. "It was a malignant tumor in my larynx." Stage three squamous cell carcinoma.

The diagnosis led to a year unlike anything he could imagine for Enloe, this year's honorary chair for the Lake Area Relay for life July 27-28 at the Walworth County Fairgrounds.

"You try to figure how it could possibly be and what you could have done to deserve this," he remembers. "I'm a nonsmoker all my life, I've never chewed tobacco. But there are a number of things-heredity, age, diet (and) second-hand smoke-so the doctors can't really pin it down."

The larynx is located in the throat and responsible for talking, eating, drinking and, most importantly, breathing.

Very quickly he had to decide between surgery to remove his voicebox and hopefully all of the cancer, or radiation and chemotherapy to try to save his life and voice.

After tests, scans, advice and thought, he chose the latter. By the end of August his treatments began. The next seven weeks were daily trips to Madison for radiation treatments and weekly chemotherapy, which of course, he couldn't have done without his wife and family.

"They were totally supportive," he said. "Vicky did everything she could."

Other than one five-night stay at the hospital, when breathing difficulties nearly led to a tracheotomy, he was able to be at home for the entire ordeal.

By early October he'd done everything he could and it was time to heal and wait for his December check-up. A December scan showed "hot spots" around his neck, but by February he got the all-clear.

Enloe is extremely thankful for his relatively "easy" trip through the world of cancer. He was able to keep working on a limited basis and the dosages of his treatments were less than most, sparing him from hair loss and nausea.

"The treatments were difficult, but not because of sessions," he said, his words slowing. "It's waiting for your session to start with all of the other people who are waiting for their session to start who are much worse off.

"You get the realization that things aren't as bad as they could be."

Enloe can't say enough about the treatment he received at the University Clinics in Madison and Aurora Health Care's Vince Lombardi Cancer Center in Delavan, where he's still undergoing procedures to repair the damage done by the treatment.

But he did have a feeding tube from August through May after losing his ability to swallow, sense of taste and 35 pounds.

"Now I'm at a point where I can-with a lot of chewing-eat solids again.

"Everything tastes so good. You wouldn't think you'd forget what things taste like, but I did. Simple things like seasonings, ketchup-simple things taste so good."

This is the key to the Relays for Life, so people like Enloe are able to say that their treatment was so fine-tuned that he not only survived, but is thankful for his relatively tolerable trip through the nightmare-something unheard of in the world of cancer until very recently.

The Relay for Life

The Relay for Life is an overnight event celebrating cancer survivorship and raising money for research and treatments with the American Cancer Society. Each team tries to keep at least one team member on the track at all times.

The public is invited to attend the event. One does not need to walk or be part of a team to attend. Luminaries are lighted bags that surround the track during the luminary lap. Each one represents someone who has battled cancer and won, is battling cancer, or has lost the battle to cancer. People can purchase them for themselves or others. For more information contact Stacy Brager at (608) 662-7571.

IF YOU GO

What: Lakes Area Relay for Life

Where: Walworth County Fairgrounds, Elkhorn

When: July 27-28

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