Local man’s winning battle against cancer

October 23, 2018 GMT

HARLINGEN — It started as a normal day of fishing.

Neil Haman and his wife Lynda were enjoying themselves on the Laguna Madre with their lines in the water. They were waiting for a tug on the line, perhaps something strong enough to bend their rods.

And then the phone rang.

“I received a call from our primary physician, Dr. Cynthia Luna Salazar, that my liver panel blood tests were really elevated,” said Neil, now 74.

The day was May 1, 2017, and their lives had suddenly changed. More tests revealed frightening news. Haman had pancreatic cancer. The very word invoked the word “terminal.”

“I felt panic, despair,” said Haman, who has now been cancer free for a year after extensive treatments at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Neil and Lynda, who were celebrating their 49th wedding anniversary recently, were no strangers to cancer even before the diagnosis. They had been involved with Dining by Design for years, raising funds for the American Cancer Society. They’re planning to participate in the organization’s annual fundraiser next month.

Still, awareness of cancer research and experiencing it themselves were two very different things. Lynda refused to accept the diagnosis and started researching pancreatic cancer online and in medical journals. She wanted to find a cure.

The doctors at MD Anderson found one, and Lynda couldn’t say enough about how well they accommodated her and her husband at the Rotary House.

“There were people there from all over the world,” she said. “We are so grateful to have MD Anderson so close.” The journey to MD Anderson began with a quick return to Harlingen and a visit to Dr. Salazar. An ultrasound showed a mass at the head of his pancreas. She followed up with a CTscan, which confirmed the tumor.

“The emotional turmoil resulting from this diagnosis had us both in a panic,” Neil said. “We didn’t know what to do next, except we felt that time was critical.”

They raced to MD Anderson with copies of the CTscan and ultrasound reports. It was Saturday, May 6, five days after the diagnosis. Doctors didn’t waste any time attending to him. That Monday they performed a biopsy, ultrasound and stent placement procedure. The results of these procedures confirmed he had Stage 1 pancreatic cancer.

Major surgery and medical treatments followed and the post surgery pathology report showed no cancer. His first annual checkup in July indicated no recurrence of cancer.

“I’m apprehensive,” he said. “I don’t feel comfortable using the word cure. That implies a degree of permanency that I don’t feel.”

He and his wife, who have two children and six grandchildren, see life differently now.

“This kind of shakes you to your soul,” he said. “It makes you appreciate every day a lot more.”

Physically he feels about as good as he did before the diagnosis. But when he’s swimming, he cherishes the rush of the water around him. When he’s with their children and grandchildren every laugh is like music. In the yard the smell of greenery stays with him.

And when he and his wife went fishing again a couple of weeks ago, they reeled in a good catch of trout.

And every bite counted.