Sarcoma Story – John Philip Douglass

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Type of Sarcoma: Ewing Sarcoma
Date of Diagnosis: 2018
Location: leg

Although he didn’t realize it at the time, John’s journey with Sarcoma began in March of 2018 when he began experiencing back pain, and tingling and numbness in his right leg. He started physical therapy to help with the back pain, but it didn’t seem to do much good. It wasn’t until the end of June that the real source of the pain was discovered. As John was reaching up to change a light bulb he felt an intense pain in his groin. He thought it was just a pulled muscle, but when the pain persisted for several days, John made an appointment to see his doctor, who recognized that this could be something much more serious. It turns out that intense pain he had felt was caused by a tumor pushing its way through his muscle tissue.

After a series of tests, scans, and biopsies, John received a diagnosis of Ewing Sarcoma at the end of the summer. It was a very unusual diagnosis for someone of his age (72), as Ewing Sarcoma is most commonly found in teenagers and young adults.

John began treatment at the Mayo Clinic. He underwent six rounds of chemo between September and December of 2018, alternating between three and five day cycles. It was a grueling treatment with several unpleasant side effects, but it seemed to be working. The tumor had visibly shrunk and John’s physical pain lessened.

By January of 2019 John’s medical team determined that the tumor was at a good point to be surgically removed. Surgery was scheduled for January 22, 2019. It was an all-day affair that involved removing the tumor and blasting the area with radiation before patching it up with plastic surgery. Thankfully, the surgery went as well as anyone could have hoped. The tumor was able to be completely removed without disturbing any of the nearby blood vessels. Pathology reports showed that the margins were clear as well.

John’s initial recovery went very well, too. He surprised everyone with how quickly he was up and walking, despite the fact that he had lost some mobility in his right leg. He was determined to get stronger. But a few weeks after the surgery there were some setbacks. John developed an infection in the surgical area, and a burst blood vessel (most likely weakened by all of the activity in that area) led to a second, emergency surgery. Unfortunately, all of this caused John to develop Lymph leaks, and he had to go through a series of treatments to seal them up. Finally, by the spring of 2019 John was ready to move on to the next phase of his treatment: radiation.

But then came devastating news. On April 10th a new tumor was discovered. John’s cancer had returned. After further scans revealed just how far the cancer had spread, John and his family were told that there wasn’t much more they could do. John decided to try one more chemo treatment in the hopes of alleviating some of the pain caused by the new tumor. It helped, but a week later he ended up back in the hospital with an infection. While the infection improved, the cancer continued to progress. The sad and difficult decision was made for John to enter hospice care. Knowing that further treatment would likely cause more agony than good, John’s doctors were in full support of this decision. John began home hospice care on May 10th. He enjoyed several good weeks of visits with family and friends before he passed away on June 8th, 2019, a day after his 73rd birthday.

Prior to his diagnosis, John lived a very full and happy life. He was born and raised in a large and loving family in Chicago, along with his sister and four brothers. John always loved sports and was a three-season athlete in high school. After graduating from DePauw University in Indiana, and Law School at Northwestern University in Chicago, John and his wife Emily moved to Minnesota, where they raised their four daughters.

John had a very successful career, first with Green Giant in Le Seuer, Minnesota, and then with Ecolab in Saint Paul. John earned his MBA from the University of Minnesota along the way. Even after retiring from the corporate world, John would always say “I never retired.” Instead, he kept himself busy with financial work and, more important to him, volunteering. John served on several boards and leadership teams—something he excelled at—but he also helped with childcare for the MOPS ministry at church, delivered grocery donations to food shelves, served meals at shelters, and rang bells for the Salvation Army with his grandchildren.

Even with all of this, John managed to find plenty of time to play golf. He was an avid golfer, and enjoyed the company of his golf friends as much as the sport itself. He had a reputation for being one of the last players on the course each fall, long after the weather had started to turn foul.

John also loved to travel and plan trips. One of his favorite destinations was the National Parks. His life goal was to get to all of them. In the end he made it to 38. John spent his summers growing up vacationing on the beaches of southwest Michigan, and his family’s summer house in that area continues to be a special place. John took two special golf trips in recent years, to Scotland in 2016 and Ireland in 2018. A highlight of these trips was the hole-in-one John scored on a course in Scotland.

John was kind, intelligent, wise, generous, humble, easy-going, and gracious. Even throughout his illness John remained steadfast in his faith and demeanor. Above all else, John was devoted to his faith and his family. He was a faithful husband to Emily, his wife of nearly 50 years; a loving father to Hilary, Heidi, Heather and Holly; and a beloved Opa to Phillip, Caroline, Madilynn, Emma, Elise, Bjorn, Alexander, and Ingrid. He is loved and deeply missed by all of us, and so many others. The world is a better place because he was in it.

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