In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

April 14, 2015

Son’s Question Serves as Wake-Up Call

By In the Loop


Jerry O'Donnell wrote a note to himself a few weeks after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer of the duodenum. It said, simply, "Suck it up." The note was something of a reminder and a revelation after his son asked him how he wanted to live his life with cancer, Jerry tells the Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier. "He said, 'Dad, cancer wants you to lay in bed. And cancer doesn't want you to eat. And cancer wants you to just lay there and be sick. Is that what you want?'"

That moment was a "wake-up call," says Jerry, of Waterloo, Iowa. And it got him up and moving, and much more. "It's so easy to step into that spiral of self-pity and 'poor me' and all that," he tells the newspaper. "I was there for a day. And a day was enough for me. And my son pulled me out." That allowed Jerry to focus on caring for himself and coming up with a personal plan to fight his cancer – one that is typically terminal. After his diagnosis at Mayo Clinic, Jerry was initially "given 12 to 15 months to live," the Courier reports. That was 16 months ago, and he's now "exercising … eating and taking nutritional supplements." Better yet, his "cancer has contracted" and he's been able to go longer between chemotherapy treatments. 

A while back, Jerry shared another of his moments of revelation in a poem published along with some of his reflections on the Sharing Mayo Clinic blog. In his poem, he talks about being moved by the beauty of music in the atrium of the Gonda Building during one of his many visits to Mayo's Rochester campus. Jerry says he found healing moments while listening to the piano, which became a refuge. "Music brought hope and connection," he says. (And poetry.) After that, the Bosendorfer piano in the Landow Atrium became a focal point of his visits to Mayo. It created a safe place, an oasis between appointments. "It can be a healing, spiritual experience," he says, "filled with hope."

Jerry tells the Courier he now "lives his life with a new sense of appreciation," and the knowledge that people are pulling for him and praying for him. "The importance of each day is more significant than it's ever been before," he says. "The importance of each relationship I have is taking on a different depth than it ever has before." And he's doing what he can to tend to those things and focus on his recovery. "Exercise. Changing diet. Prayer. Attitude. I am going to do that," he tells the Courier. "I have to do the right journey."

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Tags: Patient Stories

The poem is wonderful – brought tears to my eyes!!

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