Dr. Eugene Hale was working as a school superintendent in Buffalo, New York in 1997. His career in education had already spanned 37 years, and he was looking forward to many more. Then, one day near the end of that year, Hale’s world began to collapse when he received devastating news.
“I visited my physician about a pain in my side,” he says. “It turned out to be stage IV kidney cancer.”
With a survival rate of less than 5 percent, Hale was told he had only months left to live. He didn’t want to give up and his family was not about to let him. His son Ronald was a medical student at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland at the time. He insisted that his father visit with an oncologist there.
The doctors there put him on a clinical trial. While removing his kidney, they also discovered that he had 32 small metastatic tumors in both of his lungs. He was prescribed a medication to boost his immune system. Eight months later, most of the tumors disappeared and Hale was sent to Staten Island University Hospital for radiation to treat the remaining tumors.
By the fall of 1999, Hale was miraculously cancer free, and he credits his son, who is now an oncologist, with saving his life. He also credits the power of positive thinking with helping him in his fight against cancer.
“During my treatments, I was incredibly ill, but the support of my family, friends and school district helped me through it,” Hale says. “My amazing wife JoAnn stayed positive throughout the whole ordeal, and my doctor at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Michael Carducci, had such optimism. They provided the hope I needed.”
Six years ago, Gene and his wife moved to Southwest Orlando. Shortly after, he began volunteering as a patient advocate at Dr. P. Phillips Hospital. One of his key responsibilities is to check in with patients to ensure all of their needs are being met.
“I feel so fortunate to be able to give hope to others facing similar obstacles,” he says. “I always try to bring hope and stress positivity as I have certainly walked in their shoes. At times, the patients feel more comfortable to share their concerns with me rather than a doctor or nurse because they know I’ve been there and can relate to what they are going through.”
Hale’s outlook on life has taken quite a turn since that grim diagnosis nearly 20 years ago.
“It took something as drastic as cancer for me to stop sweating the small stuff,” he says. “Now, I’m grateful to wake up each day and see the sunshine. It’s a wonderful life.”