One thing Joe Przybilla, an auctioneer from Royalton, encourages people who receive one diagnosis is to get a second opinion. Sometimes it can be a matter of life and death. Other times it can determine the quality of life, he said.
Przybilla is the speaker for the Relay for Life of Morrison County this year. The event will be held, Friday, July 12, with registration for the survivor’s dinner starting at 5 p.m. The dinner (chicken, potato salad, beans and a dinner roll) is provided by the CHI St. Gabriel’s Hospital and will be served at 5:30 p.m. in the Little Falls Community Middle School commons.
There will also be a silent auction held in the commons from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
“We have received more than 70 items for the silent auction,” said Lynnae Gilder, who organizes the event with Cindy Molitor.
Some of the items for the silent auction are a wide variety of gift certificates for massages, food and more, baskets that feature different themes, such as farming, snacks, picnic, John Deere, wellness, overnight stays and more, a one-year membership family pass to the Pine Grove Zoo, bird houses, bird feeders and more.
The opening ceremony will be held at 7 p.m. followed by Przybilla speaking, a dove release and the survivors’ lap around the Little Falls Community High School track.
Gilder said the public is welcome to walk around the track at anytime followed the survivors’ lap.
The registration for the 5K Glow Run begins at 8 p.m. with run starting at 8:30 p.m.
The luminaries will be lit at 9:30 p.m. with the event ending at 10 p.m.
Gilder said she is looking forward to the event.
“It is a good time to reflect back on to those we have lost, to support the ones who are currently fighting the battle and rejoice in those who are here with us today that we can celebrate more birthdays with,” she said.
For more information about the event, call Gilder at (320) 632-2528.
Przybilla said he is looking forward to the event, as well.
“You will come to find out that I am somewhat of a comedian. I like to make people giggle a little. When they asked me to speak, I was honored. If I can help somebody through their battle, I am here, because it isn’t that much fun to go through,” he said.
Przybilla’s battle with skin cancer began with a freckle near the right side of his nose in 2014. Although the freckle had a dry patch of skin, he didn’t think much of it until it burst open.
“It just wouldn’t heal,” he said.
Przybilla said he went to a local doctor, who tested the freckle. But when the result came back as scabies, he told the doctor he wanted a second opinion.
“He referred me to a dermatologist in Brainerd,” he said.
Przybilla said as soon as the dermatologist saw him, she asked him how long he had been living with skin cancer on his face.
“I told her I didn’t even know I had skin cancer,” he said.
A test later confirmed that he had squamous cell skin cancer that was very fast-growing.
Przybilla was referred to a surgeon in St. Cloud and a few months later, he had the tumor surgically removed. Since the hole left after surgery was about the size of his thumb, Przybilla said a plastic surgeon closed it.
“He stitched it shut very nicely. You can’t even see it,” he said.
Per the surgeon’s recommendation, Przybilla went through a round of radiation, which meant radiation treatments every day for five weeks.
Przybilla said he felt well once he was done with the round of radiation. However, about 10 months later, he woke up one morning with a numb lip. Two days later, the numbness spread to his teeth on the right side.
“I went back to the doctor and asked to be scanned for cancer,” he said.
Przybilla was scanned several times over a period of several months, but the test results continued to be the same — no cancer.
“I told them that something was going on. I wasn’t imagining this,” he said. “Then one day, all of a sudden I started feeling like I was getting shocks in my face that would shoot into my ear and then over behind my eye to the top of my head, like I was touching an electric fence.”
He also felt like he had been sun burned.
After another scan revealed that he didn’t have cancer, he was referred to a neurologist.
Przybilla said he was diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia and was told by the neurologist that his trigeminal nerve was rubbing against the blood vein in the base of his brain. He asked for a second opinion and was referred to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. But his appointment was not until 13 weeks later.
As time went on, the shocks Przybilla was experiencing intensified.
“Pretty soon these shocks happened every 15 seconds. I couldn’t sleep at night, couldn’t eat. I was plain miserable,” he said. “I was losing weight like crazy. Even half of my tongue and the roof of my mouth went numb. It made it hard to eat and swallow. Being it was numb, you bite yourself without knowing it.”
At the Mayo Clinic, Przybilla found out he had been misdiagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia. A scan revealed he had cancer in three of nine nerves that go from the face to the brain, he said.
Przybilla said once he went through a Gamma Knife radiosurgery, a form of surgery where no incision is made, but where beams of targeted radiation kills the cancer, he didn’t have any shocks or felt any sunburn.
Following the surgery, Przybilla went through five weeks of chemotherapy and radiation.
“The nurse said it would make me sick and would make me lose weight. At that point I had already lost about 40 pounds and she said if I lost another 20, they would put in a feeding tube to make sure I was nourished,” he said.
Not wanting a feeding tube, Przybilla forced himself to eat a snack about an hour before midnight.
“I’d get something to fatten me up. It was hard to eat with my tongue and the roof of my mouth being numb,” he said. “I would eat a handful of chocolate chip cookies, a handful of peanut M&Ms and drink a pint of chocolate milk. I did it every night while I was taking treatment for five weeks.”
Przybilla said when the same nurse weighed him after he was done with the treatments five weeks later, she was surprised that he had gained one pound.
“I told her what I had done,” he said.
Przybilla said he had hoped his medical journey had ended there, but a scan later on discovered a small tumor had formed in the nerve near his right ear.
Before long, two other spots lit up on the scan. Eventually another area lit up during a scan in the middle of his face behind his sinus cavity.
Przybilla said that during this time, the entire right side of his face became paralyzed.
“I looked in the mirror and the right side of my face just didn’t look right. I smiled and it didn’t move,” he said.
Przybilla said that at first there was a thought that perhaps he had a stroke. However, a trip to the hospital confirmed it was not.
Initially, it was believed that the area that lit up on the scan was brain cancer. However, after a surgeon removed the temporal lobe of his brain that was affected, it was later confirmed that it was not cancerous, but radiation damage.
“The right front temporal lobe of my brain was cooked because of the radiation,” he said.
Przybilla said he found out it was the result of the radiation he went through the first time.
“When they told me the tumors in my head were not cancer at all, I knew I was going to live,” he said.
Since Przybilla had reached his maximum number of units allowed of radiation, it was decided that he would go through immunotherapy by using his own immune system to fight the remaining tumors.
However, after five months of immunotherapy, his own immune system started attacking his adrenal glands. Przybilla said it is a common side effect of immunotherapy.
As a result, a doctor went in surgically and froze the remaining tumor with Argon gas rather than removing it.
Looking back at his journey, Przybilla said he is very grateful for the endless support of his wife, Rosi.
“I couldn’t have done it without her,” he said.