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Beacon cancer patient turns late-stage diagnosis into a second chance, inspires hope through resilience

Dan Brubaker

When it comes to cancer, doctors want to find it early so they can treat it early. Smaller tumors mean easier treatment for the patient and a greater chance of success. Granted, doctors can still save lives when cancer is caught at later stages, but the road is usually more difficult.

Dan Brubaker knows this firsthand.

But if there’s one message Dan can offer those who receive a late-stage diagnosis like he did, it’s this: “Your life isn’t over just because you’re diagnosed with cancer.”

In his mid-fifties, Dan wasn’t a big fan of going to the doctor. So when he started feeling poorly, he endured. He noticed a change in his bowel movements, and sometimes they were painful. Sometimes there was blood. And he experienced nausea that kept getting worse and worse. He would have dry heaves every morning, sometimes for hours. Eventually, he started missing work.

Dan’s girlfriend told him he needed to be seen by a doctor. Reluctantly, he made an appointment, and his provider asked him to get a colonoscopy. The colonoscopy took just five minutes because a tumor was blocking the way.

“They could only go 7 centimeters up because the mass was so big they couldn’t get around it,” Dan said.

If he had gone for a colonoscopy at the recommended age, “I could have rectified this,” he said. “But the mass was so big it was actually protruding outside my colon.”

At the time, Dan was convinced he would die.

Photo of Dr. Justin J. Koenig, DO, FACOS

Dr. Justin Koenig

His treatment journey

Biopsies of the mass confirmed that Dan had colon cancer.

In October 2022, Dr. Justin Koenig, a surgeon at Beacon Medical Group Trauma and Surgical Services, removed the tumor, as well as part of Dan’s large intestine and colon. Dr. Koenig repaired nearby tissues and implanted an ostomy bag and a power port, which is a type of catheter that lets the care team inject medications without damaging the vein.

Dan was urged to begin additional treatments as soon as he recovered from surgery.

Reluctant to put his body through chemotherapy and convinced he was unlikely to live long, Dan delayed further treatment. His recovery from such an extensive surgery had been difficult. So much so, in fact, that he needed home health care for a month.

It was during this time that scans revealed cancer was also present in his liver and a lung, shifting his cancer diagnosis from stage 3 to stage 4.

Dr. Muhammad Uzair Saqlain, Dan’s hematologist-oncologist, describes Dan as “remarkably resilient.”

M. Uzair Saqlain MD

Dr. Muhammad Uzair Saqlain

“Dan faced a challenging surgery and an unfortunate diagnosis of stage 3 colon cancer, necessitating chemotherapy to eradicate any microscopic disease,” Dr. Saqlain said. “Initially, the prospect of intensive chemotherapy during his recovery phase didn’t sit well with him. Upon learning of his stage 4 diagnosis, Dan, like many others, grappled with concerns.”

But Dan’s family and friends weren’t ready for him to give up.

“That’s when I decided that if I survived this, I can survive chemo,” Dan said. “I have a lot to live for, so I kept pushing.”

As Dan embarked on his treatment journey with Dr. Saqlain, his apprehensions gradually dissipated, replaced by a growing strength of will. His doctor also noticed this change.

“Throughout his treatment, Dan consistently made his own decisions, guided by our expertise—a hallmark of Beacon Cancer Care’s approach. We understand that cancer takes a heavy toll on both patients and their loved ones, but our mission is to safeguard your autonomy at every turn,” Dr. Saqlain said.

Every two weeks, Dan would head to the Elkhart General Ambulatory Infusion Center, first to get lab work done, then to see Dr. Saqlain, then to receive three hours of chemotherapy. It was an intensive process, and he was working full-time. He said his coworkers thought he was crazy to be working with full-blown stage 4 cancer, but he kept going in as long as possible.

“The first round, I felt like I was Superman. By the third round, I started to feel it. The fourth round, it was so bad I had to take leave from work,” Dan said. “You have a choice. You keep going and hope that it works. Regardless of how it made me feel, I kept plugging away at it.”

Dr. Muhammad Uzair Saqlain

Bit by bit, scans showed Dan improving.

“I often reassure my patients that stage 4 cancer presents numerous treatment options, and with each passing day, our understanding of the disease improves, allowing us to manage it more effectively with fewer side effects,” said Dr. Saqlain. “While there’s still a journey ahead, the key lies in the patient’s active participation in their health. With their engagement, we can accomplish significant strides forward.”

Today, Dan is done with chemotherapy and is undergoing immunotherapy, a defensive treatment now that the tumors are no longer noticeable on scans. His commitment has given him that most precious of gifts: time with his loved ones.

“I’m going to keep on trucking to keep myself alive,” he said. “I’m not going to let my girlfriend down, my parents down or my daughter down.”

Strong support

To survive a health crisis like his, Dan says it’s essential to have a strong support system — family, friends, loved ones and a good care team, like the one he had in Beacon.

“My care team, they’re the best people in the world. If you’ve got something on your mind, you can open up to them,” he said. “There have been times I went to the infusion center and whoever was doing my treatment literally put a smile on my face. I love each and every single one of the people there. Every one of them is amazing. I’ve been glad to have them on my journey.”

That journey has been an emotional rollercoaster.

Dan’s cancer will never go into remission, and he will always need monitoring and some kind of treatment, even if it’s only defensive. Nevertheless, after all he has been through―physically and emotionally―Dan feels like he can accomplish anything.

He wants to help others have hope for the future, too. “For someone just experiencing this, I hope my story helps them understand that your life is not over. You just need to change some things.

“I’m alive. I feel like I’ve been given a second chance.”

Beacon Cancer Care

Getting the care you need at a critical time should be easy. From diagnosis through treatment and rehabilitation to ongoing care, we deliver complete cancer care close to home. Beacon Cancer Care is recognized by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer for the highest quality cancer care. Call us and our team will guide you on this journey. We never give up.