Janzen battles cancer with support of wife
Many things have changed for Steve and Phoebe Janzen since Steve was diagnosed with stage IV terminal pancreatic cancer just after Christmas.
For the last few months, it has been hard for Steve to even complete normal daily activities.
“Last week I worked on painting the barn for an hour and I was so tired that I was wasted for the rest of the day,” Steve said.
Some mornings Steve feels so sick and tired from chemotherapy treatments he has a hard time getting out of bed. On days where he feels well, he still drives a substitute mail route, with Phoebe or one of their kids driving him while he delivers mail.
“The chemo just about kills you,” Steve said. “It takes your body to the point of almost death to kill the cancer.”
The adjustment is hard for a couple who was once so active. Since being diagnosed, the Janzens have worked to downsize to help ease burdens and time, time taken up by chemotherapy treatments and doctor appointments.
“Everyday he gets out of bed and puts a smile on his face and does what he can,” Phoebe said.
Steve’s cancer was found on his liver, pancreas, and lung after not feeling well and going to the doctor. After a series of appointments, Dr. Don Hodson did a sonogram thinking Steve had gallstones and found cancer on Steve’s liver.
Shortly after being diagnosed, Steve began chemotherapy treatment, from which he developed a severe allergic reaction.
“It put him in the hospital for a week,” Phoebe said. “He hurt so bad all over that if someone touched him he would scream.”
The doctors told Steve he was in the one percent of chemotherapy users who developed similar symptoms and was switched to another treatment, which he was told was one of the last treatment options available for his type of cancer.
Chemotherapy treatments make Steve hypersensitive to cold temperatures.
“I can’t even have a glass of ice water,” he said. “Everything has to be room temperature and everything tastes metallic.”
Now the second chemotherapy treatment is no longer working. The next steps for the Janzens include experimental treatments and a clinical trial he’s been accepted into in Dallas, Texas, none of which are covered by insurance.
“The doctors wanted me to try taking some pills daily that would cost, $10,000 a month and aren’t covered by insurance,” Steve said. “I can’t pay for that out of pocket.”
Just to mail a biopsy of Steve’s cancer to John Hopkins University to be studied cost them $650. To help with the costs a fundraising effort has been started. After a social media campaign by family friend Jeannie Wildin, donations have been pouring in and total more than $30,000. However, it will cost more than that for the clinical trial specialized to treat his type of cancer.
An auction has been set for 9 a.m. on Sept. 13 at the Marion Community Building in hopes of raising another $10,000 to cover the costs of the clinical trial and travel and board whenever the trial is set.
A 5-kilomoter run/walk is also planned for 8 a.m. Sept. 29 at Marion County Lake in conjunction with Old Settlers’ Day.
Steve said he is in awe of the support from the community and family he’s already received.
“It’s been more than I ever could have imagined,” he said. “It’s brought me to tears more than once.”
Oncologist Dr. Terence Tan, formerly of Newton Medical Center, is in Singapore researching clinical trials for Steve based on genome testing. The testing has allowed Tan to narrow down clinical trials to find the best one for Steve. The earliest Steve could start a trial is the middle of September because the chemotherapy drugs must be out of his system.
The Janzens know the trial isn’t a cure, but could drastically improve Steve’s quality of life and give him more time with family and friends.
“So little research is done on this type of cancer because the symptoms can be mistaken for something else and by the time it’s caught it is usually too late,” Phoebe said. “Just the research Steve could provide could help others in the future even after he’s gone.”
In the mean time, Phoebe said it’s important to her and Steve to continue to lead as normal a life as possible and to treasure the time they have together. The couple recently traveled to New York to check an item off Steve’s bucket list: to see the Yankees play in Yankee Stadium.
“There are other people in the area who were diagnosed around when Steve was and they’re way worse or have passed,” Phoebe said. “I’m grateful for the time we’ve had and the good days we’ve had.”
Her advice was for people to go to the doctor anytime they felt sick for long periods of time.
“I was surprised how many people from Marion County also have cancer,” Steve said.
The revelation has been comforting in a way to Steve and has given him hope his research could lead to a cure.
Donations are being accepted for the benefit auction. To donate contact Wildin at the County Seat at (620) 382-3300.