Bruce Pawelk: I grew up hunting and fishing. I've been a lifelong member of Minnesota, you know? A few years ago I was experiencing lower back pain. I went to my regular doctor, and they decided to do an MRI. Biopsy was performed, and they came in and told me, "You have cancer. You have a very deadly cancer."

Michelle Clarke, M.D., Neurosurgery, Mayo Clinic: Bruce was diagnosed with a chordoma, and that is a type of tumor that grows often in the sacrum or the skull base through the top and bottom of the spine. And it is a slowly growing but fairly aggressive tumor. Now the treatment for a chordoma is an aggressive surgery where we take the tumor out in one piece.

Bruce Pawelk: Dr. Clarke is one of the few doctors in the world that could do this surgery. She explained to me with great confidence, I can get this thing. You could see it in her eyes. This gal wasn't going to lose.

Dr. Clarke: Because it is so complicated, very few people are interested in doing it. And Mayo Clinic is one of the places where we are easily able to get these multi-disciplinary teams together and perform such complex surgeries.

Bruce Pawelk: You meet this team, and this team thoroughly, thoroughly goes through every process, and explains it to you, what's going to happen.

Dr. Clarke: One of the major concerns we had with surgery was losing function of the legs, especially his feet, which would have really made it difficult for him to do a lot of the things that he really enjoys doing.

Bruce Pawelk: When I came to after surgery, I was in intensive care. And one of the surgeons came in and pushed on my feet and said, "Can you feel this?" I said, "Yeah." "Can you wiggle your toes?" I wiggled my toes. "Can you push on my hands?" I pushed on her hands and she goes, "Yes!"

Dr. Clarke: Bruce is actually doing very well. And it is amazing when he comes back and talks about all the things he's doing.

Bruce Pawelk: I love to walleye fish. I love just to go snowshoeing in the woods. These are things that I always did, and I still can do them, but now it's with a whole different passion, a whole different meaning.

Dr. Clarke: The goal for all of us is to cure his cancer. And he has worked just as hard as we have to make that happen.

Bruce Pawelk: Through Mayo, I was able to regain my life I had before. I didn't have to go into that wheelchair that I feared so much. It really changes the outlook of your life.


Dec. 03, 2022