Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cancer puts trucking family to the test

A rare form of testicular cancer has sidelined OOIDA Member Joe Rini from the road for now. But he and his wife, Connie, have their gloves on and are already battling this disease.

And from the determination I heard in Connie’s voice on the phone recently, she and Joe of Grand River, OH, are prepared to go all 12 rounds in the ring if necessary.

Back in December 2009, Connie said she drove Joe to the emergency room near their home because he was experiencing severe pain in his abdomen. She said their thinking at the time was that maybe his gall bladder was acting up and that he might need surgery to remove it. Not a major deal, just a slight hitch, some recovery, then back to trucking. Never did the “cancer” word enter their vocabulary.

But the news they received a few days later was much worse. A chest X-ray revealed white spots covering both of Joe’s lungs. Connie describes what she saw on the X-ray as “a blizzard” occurring inside Joe’s chest.

A lung biopsy was done, then an ultrasound to find the primary source of the cancer. That’s when doctors unloaded the grim news that Joe had testicular cancer with lung metastasis.

On Dec. 31, 2009, Joe had a testicle removed and is still undergoing chemo. He was in a coma for nearly a month after the first round of chemo “wreaked havoc” with his kidneys.

Connie admits they’ve been in a whirlwind since Joe’s diagnosis. She said Joe now shares two things in common with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. Both were diagnosed with a rare form of testicular cancer – choriocarcinoma – which is found in approximately 1 percent of those diagnosed. They also share the same doctor. In fact, Armstrong’s doctor, Dr. Larry Einhorn, is working with Joe’s oncologist on his chemotherapy regimen from Indiana University Medical Center. She said all of Joe’s doctors have remarked that he’s making amazing improvement.

Connie said she believes this happened to her husband and her family for a reason – to spread the word to other drivers and their families about the importance of prevention and early detection. She said her husband did go to the doctor after noticing a lump in his testicle, but that it was gone by the time he was able to see his doctor. He did not have an ultrasound at that time, which Connie believes could have pinpointed the cancer earlier rather than later.

“My husband is this larger-than-life kind of guy who works hard at what he does and works just as hard taking care of his family, his drivers and his friends,” she said recently. “I know there are many drivers out there like my husband who don’t sit around at truck stops and talk about their health worries, but maybe reading Joe’s story may urge them if they are having symptoms to see their doctors.”

Connie has started an online journal (free registration required at caringbridge.org) to keep family and friends up-to-date on Joe’s recovery. While Connie is wearing a lot of hats these days while handling the day-to-day operations of the family’s trucking business, Joseph Rini and Daughters Trucking, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We have strong faith and a wonderful support system of family and friends,” Connie said. “Our drivers have really stepped up to the plate, and I don’t think you could meet a better group of guys. We realize that we have a fight ahead of us, but we have our gloves on and we are in the ring to win this.”