'I just decided I'm not going to accept it'

'I just decided I'm not going to accept it'

GIBSON CITY — After being diagnosed in June with Stage 4 colon cancer, Tony Row began to grow angry at the world.

Not even a year earlier, the nine-year veteran of the Gibson City Police Department had seen his beloved colleague, Police Chief Eric Hyatt, lose his 6 1/2-year fight with the same disease.

"It just sucks. There's no other way to describe it," Row said.

But like Mr. Hyatt before him, Row decided to keep a positive attitude and not let cancer end his life without a battle.

"After those first few days (following the diagnosis), I just decided I'm not going to accept it," the 44-year-old lieutenant recalled. "I mean, I'm going to die when I'm going to die, but I'm not going to be the kind of guy who sits around and mopes around and feels sorry for himself and waits for it. I'm going to keep doing what I do and be there for my kids and try to make (life) as normal as possible."

Amid his own struggle with colon cancer in the preceding years, Mr. Hyatt carried a similar attitude, battling until the end.

To Row, Mr. Hyatt was and continues to be an inspiration.

"I've seen all the stages and stuff (in Mr. Hyatt), so it's scary," Row said. "But Eric was a great example to live by, to be honest with you."

Row is just thankful he still has a chance on life — a chance to fight.

"I can't lie. I was pretty angry those first few days (after being diagnosed)," Row said, "because I lost my mom (Diana) in 2012 to bile duct cancer. And she never got a chance to fight — she passed away 30 days after she was diagnosed — so I just had all that picture of what we went through with her, and I didn't want to put my family through that.

"But I get a chance to fight. She never got that chance."

 

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Since June 14, when he was diagnosed with colon cancer that had also spread to his liver, Row has seen his "tumor marker" number — the value that doctors assign the activity of the tumors in one's blood stream — fall from an initial 175 all the way to 14 as of last Thursday.

"So they've really got a handle on it," Row said of the doctors he has been seeing at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in suburban Zion.

Row said doctors there have been able to narrow down the cancer to a "specific genetic mutation" and have "tweaked" his chemotherapy treatments "to go specifically after that mutation to really knock it down and try to beat it back into remission as soon as they can."

However, Row's battle is not yet over. He said he will be going to Zion for 5:30 a.m. chemotherapy treatments every other Thursday until at least mid-September, when he will undergo more CT scans to evaluate the progress.

"Then we will make a decision on where we go from there," Row said. "It could be surgery; it could be continuing the chemo; it could be a maintenance pill. We'll know all of that later in September."

Row said the chemo treatments take a toll on him physically, but he is dealing with the treatments well. Every other Thursday, he gets a six-hour infusion. He then wears a chemo pump for 48 hours after that, taking off the pump sometime Saturday afternoon.

"They've had me take a ton of vitamins and supplements every day, but luckily my body's accepted the chemo pretty well," said Row, who has been married since September 2014 to Stacey and has three children — Abby, 20; Emily, 18; and Tyler, 14.

"I get pretty run down and tired a day after the chemo, but I don't get the flu-like symptoms or sick or anything like that, so I've been pretty fortunate in that respect."

Row has missed about seven weeks of work while battling cancer. About three weeks ago, he returned to work full time. Still, every other Sunday following his treatments, he takes sick time off and spends the day at home resting.

Thankfully for Row, he has plenty of sick time built up. Before this summer, he had never missed a day of work at the Gibson City Police Department.

 

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When Row started chemotherapy, he lost nearly 40 pounds from his 250-pound frame in the course of a week. He said the rapid weight loss was caused by a "mix-up" with the drugs he was receiving that had caused his liver to become inflamed and enlarged. After that problem was corrected, Row then experienced a different problem, as he gained 20 pounds of "fluid retention" within a two-day period, he said.

"But luckily, after a week of treatment up in Zion, they were able to take care of all of that," Row said.

Row said he has gained most of his weight back and is now "in the low 240s again."

"My trusted partner, (police secretary) Lisa Helgesen, tells me I look better now that I'm sick than what I did before," Row said with a laugh.

"He does," Helgesen said. "He really does."

Today, Row said, he is able to do his job just the way he always did.

"I might not be able to bench press as much as I could three months ago, but as far as being able to do anything else the job requires, I don't have any problems doing it," Row said.

 

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His fellow officers — and the community as a whole — have stepped up to help Row and his family through these tough times.

"We've got a good bunch of guys," Row said of his police colleagues. "Whoever has (the day) off and wasn't here, they were coming by my house every night to see me and visit and stuff. ... If I need anything or my family needs anything, they're right there for me.

"Everything's been great — from the city administration to the chief to the town itself. I mean, everybody's just come out and rallied around us. I haven't had to want for anything or even ask for anything. ... We've had about every kind of casserole known to man dropped off at our house at one time or another, and people mowing our grass, washing our cars. And there's been a lot of donations. A group of kids did a lemonade stand and just raised an incredible amount of money for a lemonade stand.

"That's just the generosity of the people in this town."

Will Brumleve is editor of the Ford County Record, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit fordcountyrecord.com.

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