More than 14 million people alive in the U.S. have had cancer at some point in their lives, including a Sussex man who said the disease changed his life for the better.
Bob Rothe, a five-year cancer survivor, was diagnosed with prostate cancer during the summer of 2012.
"It's the big C. It just takes you to pause so my first reaction was ‘uh-oh’; it was a lot of fear and angst,” he said.
Rothe didn’t take immediate action when he was diagnosed because he wanted to find the right treatment, but all that changed when his Gleason score — a grading system used to determine how likely it is that an individual’s prostate cancer will grow and spread quickly — hit 10, the highest score possible.
"That completely changed my whole plan of attack on waiting,” Rothe said. “Now all of a sudden I have to take action."
Time was of the essence, and Rothe had to choose which health care provider was right for him.
“What I found very interesting was that a lot of the marketing that your health care systems do is purely just marketing," Rothe said. "It’s not always a reality.”
Rothe wasn’t getting the experience he thought he would receive based on the commercials that depicted a big team supporting a patient by using every method possible to fight the disease.
"What I found is that there are different types of radiation machines," he said. "I knew I had to ask those questions, and I discovered bias because if a health care system has a certain kind of radiation machine, then that’s the one they're going to advocate."
Rothe decided to visit the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Zion, Illinois, to see whether there was a health care provider willing to go the extra mile.
"I remember seeing commercials, but here you go again, it's just commercials; is this real?" he said.
When he walked in the doors, he realized that it was a “radically different” atmosphere than the other treatment centers he had visited. He could hear, see and feel the positive outlook from medical professionals, patients and even the custodians.
"They throw everything they can at cancer," Rothe said. "They will use 10,000 years of Chinese medical knowledge to treat you along with the modern things they are doing."
The Sussex man loved the treatment center, but he had to figure out how he was going to handle the daily commute and the effects of treatment.
“I considered taking a leave of absence from work," he said. "It wasn't practical in my position, and I don't think it would be tolerated in an upper-level management position."
Rothe started a two-month, five-day-a-week radiation treatment in October 2012, and he never took the absence from work.
“I would get up at four in the morning, drive down there for treatment and drive back to my office in Waukesha at nine in the morning," he said.
He also had to take hormones for two years.
"That was probably more of a negative experience than the radiation was,” he said. "It zapped me of my energy.”
His wife, Patricia, who has fought off cancer in the past and recently had a resurgence of the disease, remembers her husband being exhausted from the effects of the treatment.
“I saw Bob struggle and be scared," Patricia said. "That’s new for me. The hormone shots were really hard. He would be out there trimming trees and stuff and all the sudden you’d see him lying there on the ground. I knew he was really struggling but he put a really good face on all of it."
Rothe wondered whether he would win against the disease that has taken millions of lives, whether he would be around for his children, grandchildren and wife.
Luckily, the treatment worked, he conquered the disease, and it even changed his life for the better.
"When you go through something like this, your whole life, your priorities in life change extremely," he said.
Rothe said his job was the most important part of his life before cancer, with his family coming second and his faith a distant third.
That has now changed.
He went on to leave his executive position and moved into a business development position that gave him more flexibility in his schedule.
"All your perspectives in life just get reprioritized," he said. “They are in the right order now. My faith comes first, family second (and) career is third.”
Today, after being cancer free for five years, Rothe is rediscovering himself.
“Now all of a sudden there is this new Bob and you know that career doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot to me," Rothe said. "I'm actually at a stage right now of evolving and discovering with who I am and becoming comfortable that."