MANKATO — It was a heck of a way to get the news.
But there he was, pulled over on the side of a county road between Mankato and St. Clair, listening to his doctor speak words he’d never dreamed of hearing.
“She said, ‘I’m not gonna lie. You’ve got kidney cancer, and it doesn’t look good,’” said Brian Shoemaker, who works at the Blue Earth County Jail.
That doctor also told Shoemaker to head straight to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester and to not stop home first. They’d probably operate right away, she’d said.
At that moment, a lot of people might have switched spots with their spouse and let them drive. Not Shoemaker. He took a minute to think but then hit the road, en route to a life-changing couple of weeks in St. Marys Hospital.
That was two years ago. Today, Shoemaker is changed man. He’s cancer free. He also has an outlook on life that eluded him prior to his illness.
His troubles began months prior to the event that ultimately drove him to seek medical attention.
He’d been experiencing swelling in his legs and general fatigue. He attributed it to the nature of his work, being on his feet a lot and dealing with inmates at the jail.
But when it didn’t get better, his wife decided it was time to get it checked out.
On Jan. 24, 2011, after his shift and after a night’s sleep, he awoke to find his wife still home. Normally, she’d be gone and off to work. But she called in for a day off that day and told her husband they were gong to urgent care at East Ridge.
At urgent care they did blood and urine tests, but initial results found nothing. So they ordered a CT scan. Before sending him home, the doctor asked for his cell number. Then she asked for his wife’s cell number.
And after his phone rang and he got the grave news, he understood why the doctor wanted to be able to get in touch with him immediately.
That drive was a somber one.
“(You’re thinking about) all the things you probably should have done, and all the things you wanted to do before you tip over,” he said.
Through the magic of telephones, they were expecting his arrival. And through the magic of technology a lot more sophisticated than telephones, the doctors in Rochester already had in front of them the results of his CT scan.
His doctor had told him during that roadside phone call that he’d probably undergo surgery in Rochester. And she was right.
But before that, he was plunged into more testing. This is when they found another problem: a blood clot running from his kidney to his heart. Blood clots are usually a bad thing. In this case, however, it probably saved his life.
While it was the clot that was causing the swelling in his legs, it was also preventing the cancer in his kidney from spreading to the rest of his body.
On Jan. 28, 2011, doctors removed the cancer-ridden kidney, stripped out the blood clot and replaced his inner vena cava with veins in his legs.
A few days later, he was up and walking around. And by the following Feb. 7, he left the hospital and returned to his Minnesota Lake home.
The experience changed him, he said. A lot.
He says he used to be the kind of worker who would bank a lot of vacation days, saving them up for something that might come up down the road. Not anymore.
“Don’t put off things until tomorrow,” he says by way of advice.
By the way, he is cancer free and as healthy as he’s ever been.