Two community leaders diagnosed with cancer

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By Carol A. Clark

Until now, two community leaders have kept the causes of their illnesses quiet.

But to advocate early diagnosis and spotlight Saturday’s Relay For Life informational event, County Council Vice Chair Mike Wismer and former Councilor Jim West are sharing their personal cancer experiences. 

The men were diagnosed just a few months apart with different types of cancer. Wismer shared their stories during an interview late Tuesday. 

“Jim is in Houston undergoing chemotherapy and blood transfusions for Large Cell Lymphoma,” Wismer said. 

“He gave me full permission to disclose his cancer situation because he wants to help others and hopes to encourage the community to support Relay For Life. I decided to talk about my cancer for the same reasons and to stress the importance of early diagnosis,” he said. 

Last summer a friend noticed an unusual spot on the back of Wismer’s leg where he said he would never have seen it on his own. He saw his doctor about a month later. 

“We’ve got to take this out right now and get it biopsied,” said his doctor’s technician who immediately cut the spot out and sent it to the lab. 

Within five days Wismer was notified he had Melanoma Type One – the most serious type of skin cancer. 

“They also said it was fully excised, meaning it had not penetrated below the skin layer,” Wismer said. “This is one of the worst cancers because when it gets to the lymph nodes it spreads throughout the body. The only way to prevent this cancer is early detection.” 

Wismer didn’t know it but he fits the high-risk categories for this type of cancer: 

Fair skinned; history of sunburns when younger; and sun exposure at high altitudes. 

The only other factor, which he said he’s never done, is use a tanning salon. 

Wismer received a battery of tests to ensure his cancer had not spread. He was given a chest X-ray, CAT scan and thorough lymph nodes check. 

“I can honestly say this was a shocker for me because I consider myself healthy and I live a healthy lifestyle,” Wismer said. “Every doctor who saw me including my primary care physician, the oncologist and the surgeon who removed a little more of the fringe area of the Melanoma, all said because of early detection I dodged a bullet and that I am now a cancer survivor.” 

Wismer was clearly shaken by the experience. He expressed even deeper emotion when describing how he first learned of West’s diagnosis. 

“It was a day in late November and I was out for a run,” he said. “Jim pulled up beside me and said, ‘get in the truck’ and we pulled over into Sullivan Field. Jim said, ‘I want you to hear what I’m going to say before anyone else tells you.’ He told me he submitted his letter of resignation from County Council and said he had been diagnosed with cancer, that it had metastasized and that it was in the advanced stages.” 

West told Wismer he didn’t feel he could carry out his council duties while getting the treatment he needs. 

“I’ll never forget Jim’s words – ‘I don’t want to die, but I’m ready to if that’s what the Lord has in store for me’,” Wismer said. 

West told Wismer he’d be going through chemotherapy and “all kinds of ugly treatments.” “I’m going to fight this thing with every last breath I have,” West said.

 He headed for Texas where he has sisters and family in the medical profession who are helping him, Wismer said. 

“Unfortunately, Jim was not as lucky as I was and his cancer was not discovered as early as mine was,” he said.

Wismer shared a 20-minute telephone conversation with West earlier in the day and described his voice as strong and optimistic. 

He has undergone two rounds of chemotherapy, three full blood transfusions and is scheduled for a third chemo treatment next week. 

“Jim said chemo is a rough way to go,” Wismer said. “He has no hair and has had nausea, chills and diarrhea. Each time he goes through a chemo treatment his body reacts differently. Generally speaking, he lacks energy to do normal things.” 

West will undergo a PET scan in mid March to determine how the treatments are affecting his cancer, Wismer said.

West sends the people of Los Alamos his utmost appreciation for donating blood on his behalf and for sending encouraging e-mails, letters and cards. 

“Right now Jim considers himself the luckiest man alive,” Wismer said. “He says, ‘Howdy to all and thanks for the support’.” 

Both men advocate early diagnosis and encourage the community to support Relay For Life – Los Alamos. 

“I’d like to start a relay team for this year’s relay called, Team Jim West, and I encourage anyone who’d like to be on the team to contact me at 662-8838,” Wismer said. 

Both men urge the community to turn out Saturday for the Relay For Life – Los Alamos Waffle Breakfast from 8-11 a.m., at the Masonic Lodge on the corner of 15th Street and Sage. 

The cost is $6 per person and includes berry toppings and whipped cream, sausage, scrambled eggs, orange juice and coffee. Event coordinators will explain how relay teams are formed and answer questions about the all-night event, to be held June 26-27. 

Relay For Life is designed to celebrate cancer survivors and honor and remember those who lost their battle with cancer. 

It’s geared for the entire family and allows everyone to fight back against cancer. The event also raises money to support cancer research and provide services for cancer patients.

For information, contact Cindy Eaton at 662-7073 or Allen Wadlinger at awadlinger@losalamos.com.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or 662-4185 ext. 25. Read her blog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.