The world is a small place, or at least sometimes it feels that way.
And although the phrase is most often reserved for chance encounters far from home or the discovery of mutual friends, colleagues and acquaintances, it also can be a small world for those facing similar illnesses at almost the exact same time.
In October 2011 Craig residents Lila Herod and Tony Grajeda were diagnosed with cancer about a week apart.
Not only were Herod and Grajeda diagnosed in the same month, they also underwent treatment at about the same time and had their respective surgeries two days apart at University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora.
“We’ve known each other for many years,” said Grajeda’s wife of 42 years, Shamra. “It was odd that even here in Craig they were diagnosed so close together — with totally different types of cancer obviously and different types of treatment — but it has affected our family and her family immensely, which is what I think is the interesting connection between us all.”
Though Herod and Grajeda were undergoing treatment for similar illnesses, it affected them in different ways.
For example Herod was diagnosed with breast cancer, which is notoriously difficult on the body, especially while undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Grajeda, on the other hand, responded well to chemotherapy and radiation, but struggled in the weeks and months after his Esophagogastrectomy surgery.
An Esophagogastrectomy in English is a gastric pull through and the primary procedure for people with Esophageal cancer.
Grajeda’s cancer was located in the bottom portion of his Esophagus and the top portion of his stomach. Doctors removed nearly 80 percent of his digestive system and compensated for the loss by stretching out what remained of his stomach.
Essentially Grajeda no longer has a “bowl” and food embarks on a straight shot to his colon.
The procedure is not only complicated, it’s one most people don’t survive.
“I basically had two choices, do or don’t,” Grajeda said. “I asked what my chances were, I was going to do it what other choice did I have, and they told me about 30 percent.”
Though Grajeda and Herod both admit they didn’t interact much during their respective treatments, they received some comfort through a mutual connection, Stephanie Beckett.
Beckett is Grajeda’s daughter and one of Herod’s employees.
“It helped me because I would talk to both of them and kind of compare notes about what they were both experiencing and going through,” Beckett said. “Like Lila had such a tough time going through chemo and then dad’s toughest part was going through surgery, but it was good to know what they were feeling at different stages was normal.”
“She was kind of that bridge of information for both families,” Shamra added.
Though Beckett thinks having that connection between her father and her boss helped her deal with what they were both going through, Herod said Beckett helped her relate to her family better.
So often people get caught up in the illness or the disease they tend to focus all of their attention on themselves, Herod said.
“For Stephanie and I, I think it really brought the two of us closer together,” she said. “For me it was good to talk to Stephanie and understand what she was going through because it helped me relate better to my family and what they were going through.
“Most of the time you are putting up that front, you’re trying to be tough for the people you care about because you don’t want them to worry, but I think it really is harder on the family than the person going through it.”
It’s been more than a year since Herod and Grajeda were diagnosed, and last week they both went in for their respective “preventative maintenance” checkups.
The reports were positive on both fronts.
“I think Tony would agree with me that we’re both very blessed,” Herod said. “We have good coworkers, good family and good friends.
“An experience like this really makes you reevaluate your priorities and what’s important.”
Joe Moylan can be reached at 875-1794 or firstname.lastname@example.org