Victoria man recounts 24-year cancer battle (video)
BY JESSICA PRIEST - JPRIEST@VICAD.COM
Sept. 12, 2012 at 4:12 a.m.
Common Lymphoma symptoms:
• Swelling of lymph nodes, which may or may not be painless
• Unexplained weight loss
• Sweating (often at night)
• Lack of energy
Source: Lymphoma Research Foundation
When Victoria resident Donald Gisler signed in recently at MD Anderson Cancer Center, the clerk did a double-take.
"Wow. You've been coming here for a long time," she said, marveling at his low patient identification number.
The patients she normally pulls up stats for have reached the 19,000s.
It's a reaction Gisler, 72, is used to getting. The technology that treats disease may be forever evolving, but doctors continue to shake their heads each time he makes the about two-hour trek to Houston.
After all, he's been arriving for his appointments there and in Victoria since 1988.
That's when he got a funny, raspy feeling in his throat, like a "fish bone was caught in it."
That's when he was diagnosed with large cell follicular lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that occurs in lymphocytes, or the white blood cells that help protect the body from infection.
And that's when he decided he was going to do everything in his power to fight it.
"They say if you're going to get cancer, lymphoma is the best kind to get," his wife Pat Gisler, 70, said while the couple lounged in the living room of their one-story home. "They say you can get it into remission easily, but it never goes away."
Countless injections, clinical trials, chemotherapy treatments, radiation and one stem cell transplant later, Gisler stands as a testament to this.
The man who once designed grocery ads for local wholesaler Performance Food Group and scoured a plot of land in Mission Valley with his son and grandsons now has a white blood cell count of 1.2, little to no bone marrow, weary knees and sometimes feels as though he came down with the flu.
In what can only be described as an emotional roller coaster, he's left his 14th remission. The cancerous cells having migrated to his groin. He also is now battling Myelodysplastic Syndrome, a precursor to leukemia.
His wife said the tough-as-nails personality he inherited from his mother may be why he's held on this long.
But Gisler just repeatedly vows he's "fine," something he wouldn't possibly be without his son Darin Gisler, daughter Monica Huddleston, grandchildren and wife of 52 years holding his hand every step of the way.
"Oh, you just want me to cook you a good supper," his wife said, chuckling and brushing off the compliment. "He hates when I make sandwiches."
"The doctors told me I should take it one day at a time because you can't handle it if you take it in all at once, if you wonder about how much pain you're going to be in or how much time it's all going to take," Gisler said. "You just have to remember tomorrow is going to be a better day."
The one drawback he finds is adhering to a schedule so set in stone.
He said the pair lucked out seven years ago when they saw the fall leaves change colors in New York City and then cruised through Alaska.
Now, all he has are pictures that he says don't do the landscape justice.
"It takes a day or so for it to register that I have it (lymphoma) again, and it can be kind of depressing," he said, but it's nothing compared to what the patients roaming the halls of MD Anderson are dealing with, people he and his wife said everyone should visit with to get a good dose of reality.
On Tuesday, they reveled in the simple pleasures of life. Dozens of hummingbirds were flocking to their front porch after they filled two feeders to the brim with sugar water.
"They just came in from about 2,000 miles away," Pat Gisler said, smiling and casting a look outside. "They come twice a year."
"I just thank God I'm alive," Gisler said.