"For me, the world just stopped. Everything just stopped," said Chris Mizera of Raymond when he was diagnosed with colon cancer in May 2018.
Mizera will share his story of hope as the honorary chairman at this year's Montgomery County Cancer Association 15th annual Birthday Party and Celebration of Life on Saturday, June 22, at The Event Center of Montgomery County in Taylor Springs.
Registration for this year's event is due by Wednesday, June 19. Tickets are $12 each, and may be reserved by calling Shelley Halleman at 217-412-8598.
Mizera works for Spectrum Enterprise in St. Louis, MO. He and his wife, Charity, live in Raymond. They have three children, Ashley Beard, age 25, Matthew Mizera, age 19, and Jacob Mizera, age 14, and one granddaughter, Aubrey Beard, age two.
For Mizera, his cancer journey began more than a year ago when his primary care doctor, Dr. Roger McFarlin, retired. He had been talking to his parents, Joe and Mary Agnes Mizera, about their new doctor, Dr. Josh Billington at the Springfield Clinic in Hillsboro.
"They really liked him, and I thought to myself that I don't have a primary physician anymore, and could use a physical," Mizera said.
He met with Dr. Billington for a physical and bloodwork.
"In that meeting, Dr. Billington told me at 53 that I was a rock star with perfect cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure," Mizera said. "Everything looked perfect."
Before the end of the appointment, Dr. Billington asked him if he'd had a colonoscopy since turning 50, and Mizera said he hadn't. Since he was in such good health, the doctor offered him the chance to use a take-home kit or have a full blown colonoscopy at the hospital.
"There was just this little voice in my head that said you need to have the full blown procedure," Mizera said. "The good Lord was looking out for me."
He went in for the procedure in May 2018, where doctors found three normal polyps, and a spot that they were pretty sure was cancerous. Doctors told him they would call him next week with the final results.
"The worry set in immediately," Mizera said.
He went from weighing 228 pounds to 207 pounds just one month later, by virtue of worrying.
The initial scan showed a very flat leison, and Mizera credits very good radiologists for detecting the spot, which can be very hard to see. He added that originally doctors thought the cancer had not breached his colon, only to discover later that it was present in nearby lymph nodes.
"I am a healthy guy, and this was not in my family," Mizera said. "So I started trying to eat healthier as soon as I was diagnosed."
Following his diagnosis, Mizera underwent surgery to remove a section of his colon with the leison as well as nearby lymph nodes. Four of them tested positive for cancer. Last July, he started chemotherapy every two weeks, receiving his last treatment the first week of December. He and his wife celebrated finishing his treatments with a trip to Florida.
Since then, his first bloodwork has come back normal and his scans were clear.
"My oncologist said he considers my prognosis to be excellent," Mizera said.
They will continue to monitor his condition closely for the next five years, after that, the rate of recurrence drops to nearly zero.
Mizera said he was honored to be selected as this year's MCCA honorary chairman, in honor of all patients who have undergone treatment for cancer or are still battling the disease.
"My heart just goes out to all of them," he said. "I know exactly how they feel."
Mizera said he's thankful for all the people who prayed for him while he underwent treatments, and all those who supported his family.
He also credits his doctors, Dr. Peter Hofmann and Dr. Brad Paris of the Springfield Clinic and his oncologist, Dr. Amit Gupta. He said initially they encouraged him to seek a second opinion, and doctors at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, confirmed the same diagnosis. Offered the chance for treatment in St. Louis, Mizera opted for the doctors he trusted in Springfield.
To get through his treatments, Mizera said he made a point to stay off the internet and looking up statistics about cancer. He also changed his diet and continues to live a healthy lifestyle.
"My family was all there to support me the entire time," he said. "I can't say enough about my wife. So many things got done that wouldn't have gotten done because of her. And knowing that I had to get through it for my sons and daughter was a major driving force as well."
Mizera said it was his family and his community that helped him endure weeks and months of treatments, and that he hopes to continue in the fight against cancer.
"I hope and pray they never have to go through anything like this," he said. "I wish there wasn't any such thing as cancer."
Through the continued efforts of the Montgomery County Cancer Association and others around the country, the eradication of cancer will hopefully become a reality someday.