George Geisler's story of beating advanced cancer is a page-turner. One moment he was a healthy, active, 45-year-old computer specialist from the Dallas area; two weeks later he'd lost both kidneys to non-Hodgkin lymphoma and was told he had three months to live. He went bald during chemotherapy, learned to love TV soap operas, and made a recovery dramatic enough to be fiction.
Today, Geisler has been in remission for nearly two years, and wants to share his story in case any detail could help others facing cancer. Serious problems appeared in March 2001, when Geisler couldn't keep any food down for a couple weeks. He checked into Plano Medical Center for tests, expecting a digestive problem, and was told he had widespread cancer. "My head was spinning," Geisler recalls. "I knew whatever they were telling me couldn't be true." Disbelief was cut short by a turn for the worse. His kidneys were failing and he landed in intensive care after a liver biopsy. The lab report came back with Stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma. "It was in the blood, in the liver, in the kidneys, in the back. It was everywhere," Geisler explained. He was now very, very weak and in pain from a fractured vertebrae. "You don't feel like shopping."
'You're not going to die yet.'
Family flew in from around the country and helped George's wife, Donna, with the decision to start chemotherapy right away. Geisler doesn't recall the first CHOP treatment because of strong pain medicine. He does remember the oncologist who directed his treatment, Dr. Volker Gressler, telling him, "You are not going to die yet." "He didn't define that as today or tomorrow. He left it up to me to interpret." Geisler grabbed that sliver of hope and tried to maintain a positive attitude. "I felt that science could only do so much and I couldn't just lie in bed and expect to be healed," he explained. "The least I could do was smile." Along with chemotherapy, Geisler had injections of a biological agent to attack the cancer cells. "I think I was very responsive from the beginning. By the third round my doctor said, 'You look too good.'" CAT scans showed the liver tumor was shrinking. "My doctor said he's never seen someone recover like me, and he doesn't know what to think," said Geisler.
Bald in a Day
Positive attitude aside, Geisler had bad days, and the day his hair came out in tufts was one of the worst. He was too weak to go to a hair salon, so his stylist agreed to come right over. Geisler's wife, Donna, began to wash his hair and by the time the stylist arrived there wasn't much left. "I was very upset," Geisler recalled. "My hairdresser came in, and it was a hug and a cry and then, 'Let's take it all off.' She became part of my support system." he said. Geisler also lost the heavy beard he'd worn for years and got hooked on daytime TV soap operas. "I figured it was time to go back to work when I got emotionally involved. I was yelling, 'Don't Bo! Don't do it!'" Geisler responded so well to cancer treatments that he went back to work one month earlier than expected. He squeezes in kidney dialysis from 6-10 AM three mornings a week, takes vacations near dialysis centers, and plots out his future. "My two year remission mark is in October, and I'm waiting anxiously for that. I'm already ahead of the curve, but by two years, there's almost no chance of relapse." Future plans include a kidney transplant, leading a cancer support group, and retiring closer to family members on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay.
'We Don't Take No Slackers Here.'
During a recent morning spent in dialysis, Geisler found himself encouraging the man on his right to make improvements in his life, and the man left the center with new resolve. Geisler jokes that there should be a sign. "You'd better not sit beside me. We don't take no slackers here." Since facing death, Geisler's approach is to seize the day. "In dialysis, I see people die once a month. They don't come back. You gotta' be positive. Take your meds. Don't be bitter. You're not dead yet. "I still have bad days. I crawl under the covers and wait for it to be over, or call a friend. There's no forgetting anything…but you have to put it behind you." What advice does the man who beat the odds have for other people facing cancer? "You're not dying this minute, so live this minute and the next and put them together and you've got an hour. And damn it, you never know where it's gonna' lead. You could have a lifetime of minutes."