HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Dr. Eric Janssen is an orthopaedic surgeon in Huntsville, but about two years ago he became the patient. He had no symptoms and says he felt like he was in perfect health at age 50. A changed lymph node was Dr. Janssen’s only clue that something was wrong.
One biopsy turned up nothing. But after more tests, a doctor told his wife that she better sit down. Eric Janssen recalls, “I know what that means, it wasn’t good.” The doctor said he thought Janssen had cancer, but couldn’t tell what type. Janssen was not expecting to hear those words. “I thought it would be something benign. It really caught me off guard.”
It turned out he had squamous cell carcinoma that started on the base of his tongue. He ended up having two surgeries and radiation.
A lot of thoughts started going through Janssen’s mind at this point, including the welfare of his wife and seven children, the youngest being only 11 years old.
His children say they’ve always called him 'Superman'.
“I think it was such a shock because he got up every morning, read his Bible, went on runs, worked out, he really was the strongest healthiest person I think I’ve ever met in my life,” said his daughter Kelsey.
His son Andrew jokes, “He was so positive through everything. I really do think I complained more than he did.”
All of Janssen’s children had always seen their father as an ultimate role model. His fight with cancer showed them once again just how strong he was.
“It wasn’t all about him. He was more there for us than really himself,” shares his daughter Amanda. “He wanted us to feel OK and be comfortable with what was going on. He supported us, so he took care of us while he was sick.”
But Janssen will tell you it was the support of his family and community that got him through, as well as one essential ingredient.
“I think number one you’ve got to have faith, and you’ve got to believe things happen for some reason," said Dr. Janssen.
Janssen will also tell you that advances in research just in the past few years made a big difference in his treatment, having opted for a new robotic surgery that meant he would not have to face possible deformity.
“Probably five years ago I would have opted to have a much more aggressive or wider field of radiation, would have had chemotherapy, and left with a lot more side effects, which I have very few today, luckily, because of the opportunity to have this second surgery done.”
Now that he’s cancer free, his message is clear: we need the research to keep going strong.
“If you keep in mind where research was and where it’s gotten us to, wouldn’t it be great if at some point if we could detect the cancer’s DNA or know what it is and it put it on some biological tool that would precisely kill the cancer and leave everything normal.” Janssen goes on to say, “And how wonderful it would be to say look how archaic radiation and chemotherapy were back in their day. And I think that day is coming. And I think the research will get us there.”