“My life is bigger than my current situation”
As Thanksgiving approaches, Jared Hill counts all the things he’s grateful for. He’s grateful for his community, his friends, his faith, his Asante teammates, his parents, and most of all, his own family.
He shares this with his trademark optimism, a trait he’s held through 21 years with Asante, starting in Occupational Therapy and Work Health and then as director of Operations for APP and Asante Health Network. His job — which includes working with employees, patients and employers in the community — feeds his joy.
“My cup gets filled by interacting with other people,” he explains.
When he gets to the gratitude for his wife and children, Hill’s voice halts.
“It’s hard to talk about. My wife has been a solid partner. She’s slept on the couches at the hospital. She’s been by my side through every visit.”
Hill learned this summer he has Stage 4 colon cancer, a diagnosis that would send most people into a spiral of fear, bewilderment, anger and grief. Hill chooses to focus on his gratitude — and the support he receives from his family, friends, co-workers and caregivers.
His journey from employee to patient began with mild symptoms, which sent him to his new APP primary care provider, Brent Burket, MD. (Hill would like you to know that he found Dr. Burket by calling the new-patient access line, (541) 789-1234, which expedites establish-care visits for employees. “I’m an Asante guy,” he says with a grin. “I bleed blue.”)
Hill networked his treatment as he does his work with APP and Asante Health Network. He sought expertise and support from colleagues and made new contacts as his treatment spanned Asante’s geographic breadth.
He was referred for a colonoscopy with Asante Ashland Community Hospital’s Matt Hiesterman, DO. After the procedure, Hiesterman told Hill he had a mass in his colon that would need to be removed. The news came as a shock, but Hill reasoned that it might not be that bad. Not all tumors are cancerous.
Hill’s colleague, Scott Nelson, DO, a colorectal surgeon with APP in Grants Pass, was scheduled to leave town on vacation, but arranged to surgically remove Hill’s tumor at Asante Three Rivers before he left.
When Hill awoke from surgery, Dr. Nelson had to deliver more bad news. His tumor had grown through the colon into his abdomen. It was cancerous.
“There were no signs,” Hill says, still mystified. “I didn’t feel pain.” Nor did he have typical risk factors. He had no underlying medical condition or family history of colon cancer. He played tennis several days a week, follows a healthy diet and runs marathons.
As he recovered at ATRMC, he made new friends with the nurses and CNAs, who brought food and conversation.
“They had a genuine concern for my comfort and care. They were friendly, engaging and truly cared about me getting better.”
After surgery Hill received an MRI at Asante Rogue Regional, another place he’d walked the halls as an employee but would now visit as a patient.
He talked to his friend Brian Murphy, director of Heimann Cancer Center, and made an appointment with oncologist Radhika Gali, MD. After tests, Dr. Gali confirmed that the surgery had removed the large tumor, but Hill’s cancer had spread to his liver. It could be treated with chemotherapy.
“That was a tough pill to swallow,” Hill said. “But I’m a fighter. I can do difficult things and I know I have the best care in the best place with the best people.”
Weekly chemotherapy began in September. Those days start with lab work at 7:30 a.m., a visit with Dr. Gali at 9 a.m., and infusion from 10 a.m. to late afternoon.
While it’s common for patients to distract themselves with a book or their phone, Hill uses the hours to reconnect with family and friends who drop by to keep him company. So many, in fact, that his visitors created a wait list.
A friend from college, Kevin Yamabayashi, flew in from Hawaii to spend time with Hill during the first days of his treatment. Hill’s wife of 26 years, Jennifer, is a constant presence. The couple has four children: Tanner, a student at Oregon State University; Grace, who is attending American University in Washington, D.C.; Elena, currently serving an LDS mission in Paraguay; and Dawson, a sophomore at South Medford High School.
“Right before all this happened, it was important to make sure my kids were settled in the next stage of their lives,” Hill says. Elena moved to South America in July, Grace to D.C. in August.
The long treatments give Hill more time to think about what he’s grateful for.
“It sounds really weird, but I’m grateful for my physical body. I am grateful that it tolerates the poison I’m putting in it. My spirit is strong, my faith is strong, my emotions are strong. Now I have to rely on a 50-year-old body to be as strong as it’s ever been.”
Time will tell if the chemotherapy has worked, and if Hill’s cancer has been pushed into submission. In the meantime, he is eager to remind people over 45 to get a colorectal screening — and to share his story with others.
“My life is bigger than my current situation. I have a purpose. At the close of each day I want to ask myself the question, ‘Have I done any good in the world today?’ I have a role and responsibility to be the best I can be, and help others achieve the best they can be.”
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