Sonny’s Story: Overcoming Brain, Lung Cancer 

For Sonny Weatherhead, 2014 was not a good year.  In a matter of months, the then 71- year-old was diagnosed with a brain tumor and soon after found out the cause was lung cancer, which had metastasized.  “Everything happened so quickly – we had to deal with the brain tumor, lung cancer, surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy,” he says, with his wife, Nadyne, at his side, like she’s been for the past 53 years.

Signs Of Trouble 

Things could have been even worse if Sonny’s coworkers hadn’t become concerned with the changes in his personality.  He works for a subcontractor within the Honda engine facility in Anna, Ohio.

 “They noticed he wasn’t joking with them anymore, and then one day he got lost in the shop, so they had to go find him,” Nadyne says. His coworkers told the Weatherheads’ son, Cort, who also works for Honda at the Anna facility, of Sonny’s behavior. Sonny’s family was also noticing that he was becoming withdrawn, and sometimes unable to recall facts that they were certain he knew.  All of those experiences resulted in a trip to Wayne Memorial Hospital, where an MRI showed a brain tumor.   

Sonny was referred to the Clinical Neuroscience Institute at Miami Valley Hospital.  He had surgery for the brain tumor in February, and spent only three days in the hospital.  Once he was home, however, he says he became depressed and didn’t do much.  “I sat around and ended up with pneumonia,” he recalls.  During his brain tumor treatment, testing showed the lung cancer, but that treatment had to wait until the pneumonia had gone. 

Robotic Surgery 

On June 8, Sonny went in for surgery, which would remove about one-third of his right lung.  Jose Rodriguez, MD, with Cardiothoracic Surgery Associates, performed the minimally invasive robotic surgery.

Sonny recounts, “Everything went well and I was home the next day. I was surprised to be sent home so fast, but I felt good and was ready to go home.”

Dr. Rodriguez explains that there is often a misconception that the robot is doing the surgery, but he clarifies that the surgeon manipulates the robotic tools.  “The robot doesn’t have artificial intelligence and doesn’t do anything by itself,” he says.   

Because Dr. Rodriguez was performing Sonny’s second major operation, he was glad to have the da Vinci system available; Sonny would have a less painful experience, from which he could recover more quickly.  Sonny was home after only one day.

Dr. Rodriguez notes, “When a patient is going to select where to have surgery, in this case robotic thoracic surgery, there are factors that are very important to review; one is where to have it. Which hospital? The hospital with more experience, I think, is an important factor.” 

Coordinated Care 

When Sonny’s problems started, his wife says that part of their worry was having no experience with such serious medical issues.  “We had no experience working with these kinds of specialists.  The staff set our appointments, and they made it as easy for us as possible,” she says.  “Whenever they could, they scheduled Sonny’s treatments at Upper Valley Medical Center, which was so much closer for us.  We feel like we’ve had a whole team taking care of his treatments.”

After his lung cancer surgery, a follow-up MRI showed that Sonny’s brain tumor had returned.  His neurosurgeon suggested intensive radiation therapy as a first step to avoid additional surgery.  The radiation was successful, and now Sonny is back to work without restrictions.  During his many months of treatment, though, Sonny’s biggest worry was how much time he’d have with his family.

 “I had a granddaughter graduating from high school, another who was getting married in the summer, and a grandson in his second year at West Point.  I wondered if I’d be around to see any of those things,” he says. 

He and Nadyne credit Premier Health’s coordination of care services for his recovery.  “They built a whole network and make services available to people everywhere.  The group can coordinate care, and that’s really a valuable asset,” Nadyne says.  “All of our doctors have made us feel we can talk to them without being rushed.  We’ve been a part of Sonny’s health care process, and we need to be,” she adds. 

While Sonny’s prognosis is good, he and his family know that there are no guarantees.  “When you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you live from test to test,” Nadyne said. “Maybe for younger people that would be harder, but for us, we‘ve adjusted and are happy that he’s doing so well.”   

Now, Sonny’s feeling back-to-normal and sees his oncologist to keep tabs on his cancer status.  “I feel very fortunate that I had such good care.  The doctors were great, the nurses were very caring, and everyone at Premier treated me well. Dr. Rodriguez did a great job,” he says, “but I hope I never need to see him again.”  

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