For the Love
DALE AND TONYA EUREK SHARE THEIR STORY
Dale and Tonya Eurek have always been active members in their community, both from small towns in Nebraska and both college athletes.
After meeting in college in Hastings, Nebraska, the couple married and moved to Omaha. Tonya, a teacher in the public schools, and Dale, a customer service representative at a local bank and basketball referee, were eager to start a family. They were blessed with two boys and life was good.
Time quickly passed and as their boys grew older, their lives evolved as parents’ lives tend to. Dale changed career paths, which included travel to some interesting places. They spent time at numerous sporting events, moved to an acreage, and even went skydiving. They started a bucket list when they were 42 and were fortunate to attend the March Madness final four games, experience the Kentucky Derby and travel somewhere tropical every summer. Their bucket list continued to grow with hopes of biking across Nebraska, as they both enjoy the outdoors and exercising.
In January of 2021, Dale discovered a lump on his neck while shaving. Not thinking much about it, he mentioned it to his doctor during a wellness check.
Due to the nature and size of the lump, his doctor referred him on for a CT scan, ultrasound, and biopsy. On January 29th, 2021, Dale was diagnosed with stage 1 HPV-positive head and neck cancer.
“After noticing the lump and after my tests, I had a feeling it maybe could be cancer. It wasn’t until after the conference call from my doctor confirming it was cancer that I had to realize what was really going on,” said Dale. “My cancer was at the base of my tongue.
I had one larger node and a few smaller ones, too. My goal was to be recovered and feeling better by my son’s wedding. The wedding was scheduled for May 22nd on our acreage and I knew we had a lot to do to get ready for it. I had a lot of mowing to do.”
Dale’s multidisciplinary medical team consisted of Dr Yungpo Bernard Su, a medical oncologist with Nebraska Cancer Specialists, head and neck surgical oncology, radiation oncology, and a clinical trials research team.
Dale’s course of treatment was intense. He received 30 radiation treatments, Monday through Friday, paired with six weeks of Cisplatin chemotherapy treatments, usually on Fridays. “I would have radiation in the morning and then chemotherapy. Those were pretty long days,” Dale remembers.
“Dale has gone through his journey with courage and grace, heartened by the fact that his prognosis for cure and long-term quality of life is excellent. He and his wife Tonya have been a great team throughout,” said Dr. Su.
“My last radiation and chemotherapy treatments concluded approximately two and a half weeks before my son’s wedding. Those two weeks were the hardest for me. I had lost about 30 pounds and my energy was really low. It was hard for me to swallow and eat from the radiation burns on my neck and throat,” recalls Dale. “But, I’ll never forget it. I was sleeping in the spare bedroom and in the middle of the night I heard my wife yelling and screaming.”
Dale remembers going to the primary bedroom and noticing that Tonya had fallen.
Tonya had always been active. A runner, weight lifter, and basketball coach, but had noticed throughout a couple months prior to her fall that she was experiencing some rib pain.
“Late last year I remember getting a big bear hug and I felt a pop in my ribs and then the pain kind of moved to my back,” said Tonya.
“Then I had been having some pain when I was lifting weights but just thought I had tweaked something.”
After a few trips to the chiropractor and a visit to a spine doctor, she was told she had a fracture in her back. One night while feeling more than normal discomfort, she got up and walked to her bathroom. She fell on the floor and remembers hearing things break.
“I was taken to the hospital by ambulance and told I had 15 broken ribs, a couple broken vertebrae, and sternum. It was terrible, I was in so much pain,” recalls Tonya.
On the fourth day of her six-day hospital stay, after a series of tests, Tonya was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell. Tonya was referred to Dr. Stefano Tarantolo, a medical oncologist with Nebraska Cancer Specialists, experienced in treating patients with blood cancers.
The first goal of treatment was to get Tonya feeling well enough to attend her son’s wedding. A course of steroid treatments allowed for Tonya to feel well enough to be discharged from the hospital and home in time to see her son marry the love of his life. “I was so thankful to our family and friends who rallied around us and helped us get ready for the wedding. They helped with everything. I don’t know what I would have done without all of them. The wedding was perfect and we were both there to see it,” said Tonya.
Tonya’s cancer journey included two forms of chemotherapy from May to October. In October, her stem cells were collected and she underwent a stem cell transplant in November which included a two week hospital stay.
“I won a medal in the hospital for being a marathon walker and walking the floors multiple times a day to get exercise. I also brought my hand weights,” said Tonya.
“One of the things I noticed time and time again was how much Dale advocated for Tonya and the support he provided leading up to her stem cell transplant. He was always on top of her medical appointments, sharing concerns they had and any symptoms Tonya was experiencing,” said Carly Keene, Nurse Case Manager for Dr. Tarantolo.
Tonya said one hundred days after a stem cell transplant is typically when a patient begins feeling better. For her, that day was in mid-February. Tonya is happy to be back teaching middle school, which includes 7th and 8th grade students, in Bennington.
Dale and Tonya have decided to stay put in the community that supported them through all of the ups and downs. “We are blessed to have welcomed our first granddaughter, Hunter Wren, in August and we are putting in a pool. We are looking forward to spending the summer here at home with our boys and their families, just being together,” said Tonya.
In the midst of Dale’s cancer journey, he took to journaling and formed a video blog to keep friends and family up-to-date on his progress. He said he checked a box in his calendar each day and looked forward to the finish line. His advice to others going through something like this is to take it one day at a time. Allow your body to heal and get well. He also credits the support from others who have gone through something similar.
“There was another man about 10 years older than me going through the same treatment. It was just great to talk to someone who was going through something similar,” said Dale.
Dale and Tonya are happy to be back doing what they love, in a community they love, with the people they love. “Both of us are feeling good today,” said Tonya. “We feel so lucky and blessed to have a second chance at life. We are planning a trip to Jamaica for this summer. My bones feel better every day and I’ve been working out, walking, and keeping busy.”
To view Dale’s video journey, check him out on YouTube. Visit YouTube and search Dale Eurek.