Natives and life-long residents of Odebolt, Steve and Debbie Loger can often be found cheering up students, children with special needs, and nursing home residents with their therapy dogs – Shetland Sheepdogs Sunday, Meeka and the late Toby. With their ability to bring joy to others, it’s no wonder Debbie – who has served the Ida County Courier for 23 years – and Steve – who worked at local grain elevators for 30 years and retired from Lundell Plastics after 10 years – continued their volunteer work even after Steve was diagnosed with Adenocarcinoma of the right parotid gland, an aggressive cancer of the head and neck.
Steve’s battle against cancer began in October 2016, when he noticed a lump on the right side of his neck. His primary care provider Shelly Else, PA-C, Horn Physicians Clinic, first prescribed antibiotics with the hope of the lump being an infection. When that didn’t do the trick, she referred Steve to specialist Tracey Wellendorf, M.D., Wellendorf ENT. Steve visited Dr. Wellendorf on October 27 and a mere four days later, was scheduled for open neck surgery.
“Dr. Wellendorf wasted no time in working to identify the problem,” Steve said. “He performed the surgery at St. Anthony Regional Hospital in Carroll, removing three lymph nodes, one the size of a small egg. On November 9, he shared with us that all three came back as basal-type cancers, meaning they were a secondary cancer and not the primary.”
From there, Dr. Wellendorf referred Steve to ENT-Otolaryngologist Daniel Lydiatt, M.D., and Dental Oncologist Jeffrey Markt, M.D., with the University of Nebraska Medical Clinic in Omaha. In November, Dr. Markt suggested removing his 12 molars as radiation could cause major problems with those teeth later. Dr. Lydiatt removed the molars, performed a scope and did biopsies of Steve’s right tonsil, roof of his mouth and the back of his tongue in an attempt to locate the primary cancer.
At his post-op exam, an ultrasound, MRI and PET scan were ordered and revealed a spot in Steve’s right parotid gland. In January 2017, Dr. Lydiatt performed surgery, removing the parotid gland and 26 lymph nodes down into Steve’s neck and shoulders.
“At that time, Dr. Lydiatt shared with us that they weren’t able to get all of the cancer and that with 26 lymph nodes impacted by this aggressive cancer, I would need chemotherapy and radiation treatment,” Steve said. “On January 23, 2017, I was diagnosed with Adenocarcinoma NOS, meaning Not Otherwise Specified, of the right parotid gland.
Dr. Lydiatt told Steve he would need radiation five days a week. Rather than drive 150 miles to Omaha for treatment every day or stay more than two hours from home, Steve was hopeful that he could instead travel 50 miles to St. Anthony Regional Hospital.
“Dr. Lydiatt was protective of my case and wanted to ensure the St. Anthony Cancer Center met his high standards,” Steve said. “He did his research on the team at St. Anthony, including Radiation Oncologist Dr. [Randal] Hess and Oncologist Dr. [Mark] Westberg. The very next day he called and told me I was set up to meet with the team at St. Anthony. His confidence in the specialists at St. Anthony confirmed that I had made the right decision for cancer treatment.”
Over the course of seven weeks, starting in February 2017, Steve received 32 radiation treatments and two-and-a-half-hour chemotherapy sessions once a week. Steve recalls being overwhelmed during the initial CT scan and radiation form fitting session.
“There is a form that goes over your face and is fastened down for safety purposes during radiation,” Steve said. “When you go in for an X-ray, the X-ray technician sits in the room with you, wearing a lead apron to avoid exposure. I remember realizing how serious my condition was and being a little scared when everyone had to leave the room, unlike diagnostic x-rays, while I received radiation treatment.”
Steve appreciates Dr. Hess’ straightforward, practical and collaborative approach to cancer treatment.
“Dr. Hess was open about the fact that I had the worst type of cancer that he treats, and that treatment was going to be hell,” Steve said. “But he took every precaution, even treating my left side, to ensure the greatest chance of success. He has a philosophy that the entire medical staff at St. Anthony is a team and encouraged a holistic approach to my treatments.”
That holistic approach, Steve shares, included detailed explanations from the infusion therapy team with each treatment, collaboration with dietitians to ensure his nutritional needs were being met, guidance from social workers, assistance from the hospital’s speech therapist, and the addition of a port and feeding tube from Josh Smith, M.D., of Western Iowa Surgery at St. Anthony.
“Receiving follow-up treatment close to home allowed Debbie and me to maintain a sense of normalcy – she was able to continue to work and take me to chemo treatments, and I was able to sleep in my own bed every night,” Steve said. “Had treatments not been available in Carroll, I would have needed to stay in Omaha during the week for those seven weeks.”
Steve received his last radiation treatment on March 29, 2017. He continues routine exams with Dr. Lydiatt every three months, but as of his last appointment on October 17, 2018, Steve shows no signs of cancer.
“My prognosis is good, and I’m doing well health-wise,” said Steve, who is back to another hobby, mountain biking, at age 68.
When asked by friends and family how he can remain so positive, Steve shares that support from Debbie, his faith, and his beloved Shelties have played a key role.
“My faith in God means so much. When you go through something like this, there is a tremendous amount of spiritual growth that occurs,” Steve said. “You get to thinking about what is really important and have a passion to do what you can do, for as long as you can.”
The couple’s relationship has also strengthened through the experience, Debbie adds.
“Our love for each other and our love for God has grown,” said Debbie, who was by Steve’s side every step of the way. “There were days I would cry on my way to work, but I never wanted him to know if I was upset. We’re positive, but we are always anxious that the cancer might come back.”
And still, after four months off to battle cancer, the Logers continue to spread joy to people of all ages with their therapy dogs.
“The dogs [who Steve has labeled ‘good medicine’] have been phenomenal for Steve in his recovery,” Debbie said. “When doing his routine feedings [with the feeding tube], they rest with him; when he recovered from treatment, they provided comfort.”
As for his medical treatment, Steve is grateful for the collaborative approach his providers took from day one. From his primary provider in Odebolt, to specialists in Omaha, to the numerous physicians and health care services at St. Anthony, Steve was able to battle cancer head on. And, as Steve says, “I’ll take every win I can get.”
Pictured left: Steve and Debbie Loger with therapy dogs: Shetland Sheepdogs Sunday, Meeka and the late Toby.
Pictured at left: Steve Loger at the 2018 Carroll Band Day Parade with Katie Nelson, RN, BSN, OCN with the St. Anthony Cancer Center and her daughter Nora.
- radiation oncology
- randal hess