HUMPHREY — The first thing that greets you — greets everyone — is the smile.
A warm, gentle man, devoted to faith, family and friends, it’s hard to believe the battle going on inside Dan Engel’s body.
For the past two years he has battled cancer, and the fight continues.
In June 2013 he was diagnosed with colon cancer, and has endured the ups and downs of chemotherapy, recovery and recurrence.
“I was having a pain right below my belly button, and it started as a dull pain, and after a few days it got more intense,” he said. “I went to the doctor. They checked me for a hernia, did a CT scan, and the organs looked fine.
“Two days later it got so intense I went to the hospital, and they did an ultrasound and found something questionable in my colon.”
The CT scan was compared and doctors at Columbus Community Hospital found what they suspected: cancer.
“The doctor came into the waiting room, shut the door and told me I had Stage 4 colon cancer,” he said.
That diagnosis set in motion a whirlwind of activity.
He was diagnosed on a Monday, had a colonoscopy on Tuesday, and Wednesday had colon surgery during which five feet of his colon was removed. That left him with fewer than 12 inches of his colon.
Doctors tried to remove the polyps on the colon, but there were hundreds of them.
As tough as the surgery was, telling his family brought its own agony.
First he and his wife, Renee, sat down their children, Austin, Colton, Sydney and Spencer.
“That’s a tremendous hurdle,” he said. “We got the kids together and told them what was going on. That’s one of the most difficult things. It’s devastating to yourself, but it’s more devastating to your family, especially your kids. You try to stay positive.”
The surgery went fine, but two months later the pain resurfaced. His colon had a hole the size of pin in it, and doctors had to go back in and close it.
Dan spent a year taking chemotherapy with minimal side effects. The biggest problem was neuropathy, a numbness in his fingers and feet, which continues today. He still has a little numbness in his fingers, but he estimates that 90-95 percent of his feet are still numb.
After a year of chemotherapy, the spots on his liver were either reduced or gone completely, but surgery still was required. Fifty percent of his liver was removed, but this was good news because the cancer was gone.
“This was a very happy time,” he said.
But it didn’t last.
Sixty days after the liver surgery he was back for a checkup, and doctors were asking him how much pain he was experiencing. It’s because his cancer had returned.
There were additional spots on his liver and new spots on his colon where they reconnected his intestines.
So, in January of this year, it was time for more chemotherapy.
“I told Renee tomorrow the sun’s going to come up, and we’ll face it head on, but for a little bit there you want to get it out, and you cry,” he said.
Since the first of the year Dan has been going to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha every two weeks for a more intense type of chemotherapy.
A CT scan about month ago was good. A spot on his liver shrank, but the spot on his colon remained the same size, which Dan says is positive because it did not grow.
He has four more sessions of chemo remaining, which will take eight weeks. An MRI will follow.
“By the grace of God I will be cancer free. If I’m not we’ll make another plan,” he said.
Dan is 45 years old, was diagnosed at 43, but doctors estimate he had been living with cancer since he was 33.
Despite it all, he feels fortunate. That may seem odd to many people, but Dan isn’t like very many people.
“It’s how you’re raised,” he said. “The great thing is having family, is No. 1, and living in a community like Lindsay-Humphrey, the people are amazing. The assistance you get, the generosity, and the prayers that everyone sends. It just energizes me.”