“I have good news and bad news,” recalls Bob McMillan of the words a Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center doctor told him when he visited for a pain in his abdomen.
The pain had only begun a few weeks prior for the 87-year-old man, oscillating from one side of his abdomen to the other until eventually, the entire area hurt. McMillan believed he had a hernia.
“You don’t have a hernia,” the doctor began. “You have cancer. Stage IV lymphoma.”
McMillan couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He remembers feeling angry and frustrated, only to be comforted by his wife and her son, who offered him a blessing. The blessing told him, “You will endure.”
“That meant a lot to me,” he reflects. “It didn’t say ‘get better’ or ‘feel good soon,’ it said, ‘you will endure’.”
The doctor at Carson Tahoe referred McMillan to Dr. Perez and his team at Sierra Nevada Cancer Center. SNCC is close to his home in Minden, making his treatment easier on him and his family.
“When I went to see [Dr. Perez], I was really sick,” McMillan says. “My step-son told him ‘Doctor, this man is strong. He was mowing his own lawn a week ago.’”
Dr. Jorge Perez, a board-certified oncologist and hematologist, listened to McMillan and his concerns and then scheduled him for chemotherapy treatments. Bob received chemo once a month every month for two years.
“Believe it or not, I never suffered any of the side-effects of the chemo that he gave me, in the respect that I didn’t have any pain,” McMillan says. “He gave me pain pills, which I took only for a day or two, but I had no side-effects. I wasn’t upset — I had people that brought me to the treatment and took me home, so I wasn’t driving. It was fine.”
Over the course of three years, McMillan, now 90, received multiple rounds of chemo and 20 sessions of radiation. Through this experience, he kept telling himself he would endure.
McMillan says he is continually amazed at the skill of Dr. Perez and his team.
“I marvel at their skill — how much they have to know — because no two patients are alike,” he says. “They’re all different.”
McMillan says his cancer journey has helped him to grow as a person.
“After my cancer diagnosis, I have been able to endure a lot more,” McMillan says. Since his cancer treatment, he has had open-heart surgery, during which he had two of his heart valves replaced and a pacemaker inserted. “I feel better and better every day. I feel better now than I did when I was 80.”
Today, Bob McMillan shows no signs of cancer. His last MRI came back clean.
“They won’t say I’m cancer free for at least five years. But I expect to be here to see it.”
McMillan now spends most of his time remodeling his home, one that he has lived in since 1980. His wife now lives with her son for health reasons, giving McMillan a chance to work on the house. “I’m not bragging or anything, but I’m just remodeling the house: new flooring, painting, all those kind of things. I do about 50 percent of the work myself.”
McMillan hopes that his story will help others, no matter their age, cope with a cancer diagnosis.
“I was hoping that my experience would calm down someone who might be upset. I‘ve been down that road,” he adds, but notes that the results are far better than he expected or even hoped.
McMillan endured — and continues to endure — thanks in part to Sierra Nevada Cancer Center.