Jay Van Orsdol with wife, Heather Marie Stur, and children, Angus, 12, Ignatius “Iggy”, 10, and Stephanie, 6.
HATTIESBURG, Miss. – (February 4, 2022) As 2022 got underway, Jay Van Orsdol of Hattiesburg celebrated his 45th birthday. He has a lot to be thankful for. Ten years prior, he had received a diagnosis of Stage 2 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer that begins in the body’s lymphatic system.
As he notes the observance of World Cancer Day today, February 4, he and others around the world may reflect on their own diagnosis and treatment. Some, like Van Orsdol, will be thankful for their clean bill of health, while others will remember the loss of a loved one.
It was a little more than 10 years ago that Van Orsdol noticed a flabby lump on his neck; not anything very big, but noticeable. During the Christmas holiday, Van Orsdol was helping a caterer friend by bartending at a party. The party just happened to be at a physician’s house. At the end of the night, as Van Orsdol was packing things up, he approached the physician, who he had become acquainted with. “Can I ask you a medical question?” he said, not knowing what kind of medicine the doctor practiced. He said the doctor switched from party host to doctor mode. “I told him about this ‘thing’ on my neck and asked who I should go see. I didn’t have a doctor or health insurance at the time.”
“He told me to come see him tomorrow,” Van Orsdol remembers. “I went and he’d already set something up, sending me for a biopsy. On my 35th birthday, he called to tell me I had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.”
Van Orsdol said the word cancer is so scary to hear. “My sister didn’t believe it when I told her I had Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma,” he remembers. “She said, ‘That’s cancer. There must be something else you have.’ I said, “No, that’s it. It’s like your brain doesn’t want to hear that word.”
Van Orsdol saw oncologist, Bo Hrom, MD, at the Forrest General Cancer Center. “We met within a few days, and he became my spirit animal,” Van Orsdol said. “It was the first time I’d seen a doctor in a long time and the first time my doctor was younger than me, but only by a few months.” The two men bonded over things they had in common – their age, and young children. Van Orsdol and his wife, Heather, a professor at The University of Southern Mississippi, had a two year old and a two month old son at the times. They have since added a daughter to the mix.
And then there was Dawn Smith, Dr. Hrom’s nurse, who took excellent care of her patient, but also his mother, when she came to visit and the scope of her son’s illness became too much. Dawn was a comfort and became a nurse to Van Orsdol’s mom, also. “I owe them my life,” Van Orsdol said. “I’ll always be grateful to them for not only treating an illness but curing all the fear and anxiety I had.”
Van Orsdol, who had 12 rounds of chemo, returned to the Cancer Center every couple of weeks for treatment where he would hang out with the nurses for a couple of hours. He refers to his treatment as mild. “I’ve known a lot of people who have gone through cancer treatment, especially radiation, which I didn’t have, and they had severe nausea.”
After 6 months and tremendous support of family, old friends and new friends, Van Orsdol finished treatment and began the healing process. And his hair grew back.
Ten years have passed, and Van Orsdol remains cancer free. But his story doesn’t end there.
During those days at the Cancer Center, Van Orsdol hit it off with Kecia Jones-Harris who ran his PET scans. At that time, Jones worked in radiology, but now serves as manager of the Cancer Center. “We became friends, and she referred to me as her miracle patient,” he said. It was at Jones’ urging that Van Orsdol became interested in radiography and actually went to Pearl River Community College’s Nursing School to check things out. He quickly learned that while he didn’t mind getting a shot, he was iffy about sticking people with needles.
However, Van Orsdol discovered PRCC’s electronics program where a student could work an internship with the hospital. “I was good with math and electronics, so I decided I’d use those talents and work on machines,” he said. These days you’ll find him, a Surgery Tech III in Biomedical Services, servicing the machines in the operating rooms. “I perform all the maintenance on the anesthesia machines, the fluid warmers and other OR equipment,” he said. “It’s a very cool job, and I’m really happy to be able to work for the organization that I credit with healing me. It’s kind of an honor. I’m not only grateful to go to work, but proud to be part of such an organization as Forrest Health.”
For more information about the Forrest General Cancer Center, visit www.ForrestGeneral.com/cancer.