“My Voice” by George Giefer, Jr.

George Giefer, Jr. - 'Survivor'

Just a brief story as to how this tumor was found… It was a mid-summer afternoon, and I like any 4 year old boy would do, was playing outside without a shirt on. When I came inside after playing, my mom noticed some unusual “shading” on the upper right part of my back. There were a couple of areas where it wasn’t tanned like the rest of my back was. Mom felt concerned about it and when I had my check-up before starting kindergarten, mom brought that up to the doctor. He did some x-rays and then sent me to a surgeon to have it biopsied and possible surgery. The biopsies came back as inconclusive, due to the area of the tumor that was biopsied.

In late July of 1975, I was hospitalized with a massive tumor in my upper right chest area, which required immediate surgery.

This surgery was 2 weeks before my 5th birthday. When the slides were sent off to several pathologists for diagnosis, the results that came back changed my life in more ways than I could count. The diagnosis was that of cancer, or as I would come to know it better as, ganglioneuroblastoma or neuroblastoma.

Ganglioneuroblastomas are a mix of malignant neuroblastoma and benign ganglioneuroma tissues; they are sometimes called transitional tumors. These lesions also originate from sympathetic cells. Histologically, they are considered malignant because they contain primitive neuroblasts along with mature ganglion cells.

My doctor was able to remove the entire tumor; however there were a few side effects that I have had to live with to this day. A couple of those side effects include, having one pupil that is slightly smaller than the other which was diagnosed as a mild case of “Horner’s Syndrome”, along with having an area under my right arm about the size of a softball which has a “numb” feeling. There are a couple of other minor side effects that have diminished over the years and are not as noticeable. This happened when my doctor removed the tumor, and he inadvertently nicked a nerve in the process. I do not fault my doctor for this in any way. The fact that he was able to remove the tumor in whole was more than enough thanks.

As I had said, the diagnosis was that of cancer. My doctor wanted to do radiation therapy and even more extensive surgery on the right side of my back to “make sure the entire tumor was removed”. Had he performed this further extensive surgery, he would have removed majority of the muscle from the back of my right shoulder along with several ribs in front. He had made these intentions known to my parents, which nearly devastated them. He also told them to think it over for a day or two and get back with him, but he was very adamant about doing the radiation therapy at the very least. That night, when my mom went home and my dad stayed with me at the hospital, my mom prayed to God about the matter. God spoke to her that night, and told her to not let the doctors or anyone do any further treatments to me. That everything was in His control. The next day, when my mom went to the hospital to relieve my dad, so he could go to work. She told the doctor that he wasn’t going to do any further treatments until he sent at least 3 more slides off to other pathologists. She said that if any of them came back as being positive, then she would consider the further treatment.

My doctor reluctantly sent slides off to three other pathologists, and a few days later called my mom saying he needed to see her and my dad immediately. When they got to his office, he had the most amazing news for them. All of the results that were sent out came back as NEGATIVE, with ONE exception…. There was one result that came back with a side note on it. It said in the side note, that while the original slides indicated a malignancy, the current slides showed just a plain benign tumor. The side note also said that due to the tumor being caught in an early enough stage, the tumor which was initially benign, had started the process of becoming malignant. So, it was decided that nothing further would be done at that time, except for routine follow-ups every few months for the next couple of years, and then twice a year for several more years. After about 6 or 7 years I went down to once a year for checkups and eventually discontinued the checkups.

I realize I am not out of the woods as far as a recurrence or developing another cancer. I had recently found out from my mom that a few of the male members of her side of the family, including her dad had cancer.  From what I know, there are possible occurrences of prostate as well as colon. I know it is something I will need to keep in mind over the next few years as I go into my forties. I also know I will more than likely need to begin getting checkups and being screened for these two types of cancers specifically.

I could have played the “What if?” game trying to figure out all of the possible outcomes, but it all came to one of many conclusions… What if God wants me here to serve a certain purpose…? Maybe to tell my story, or maybe to just be a small cog in this giant machine of many more cogs trying to keep the machine going…

In conclusion, being a ‘Survivor’ to me means several things:

That you are offering support, strength, a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to listen to the fears and concerns with your fellow Survivors.
It is ‘knowing‘ that you are making a difference by helping others become more aware about what cancer is and is not.
It is about ‘being‘ a survivor and sharing your story with others.
It is about ‘showing‘ that you are battling or have battled the disease and beat it.
It is about crying and rejoicing when you see all of the other survivors that have beat this disease, and at the same time, crying and mourning those who have lost the battle to this disease.
It is about making the community aware about being checked for cancer, whether they have a family history of the disease or not.
And finally being a ‘Survivor‘ to me means that you can be one of the ‘Voices’ of millions of people speaking out to others by sharing your story of being a ‘Survivor’ to help to find a cure for cancer.

I do know for sure that I was spared a possible death sentence back 34 ½ years ago due to an awesome doctor, and an even more Awesome God.