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Comradery Formed at RCC

James Smialek Jr. and Gary Zeigler, Patients

James and Gary

Gary and James in their favorite corner during treatment

Testicular cancer patients, Gary and James found friendship in the waiting room of RCC. “It’s like the first day of school, you are nervous to meet new people and don’t know what to expect,” says James. With similar hobbies of fishing, camping and being outdoors, it was easy for the two to strike up a conversation and hit it off even though their paths to RCC were quite different.

Usually a time for being with the family and enjoying each others company, Easter Sunday turned south for James when he sought treatment at UPMC Hamot for extreme constipation. He was diagnosed later that day by RCC’s Dr. Jongming Li with Nonseminomatous Testicular Cancer. Two weeks later, James began his journey at RCC.

Kidney Stones prompted Gary to go to the hospital in January, where doctors found a mass in his stomach. In February he underwent extensive surgery for the mass and, following an ultrasound, he was diagnosed with Seminoma Testicular Cancer. Working for BF Fields Moving & Storage, he had delivered equipment to RCC before and knew coming here would be the best choice for him, “I told my oncologist in Pittsburgh that I wanted to come here [RCC] for the convenience of being close to home.” Gary is grateful for the treatment he receives and is impressed by the staff, “Everyone is very informative, they know everything and coexist very well.”

Both Gary and James agree that it was overwhelming at first going into this new and unknown experience as a cancer patient. “I follow James’ lead to see what might happen to me next,” says Gary. They gain comfort from each other by talking about their experiences such as hair loss and other effects from chemotherapy to help them through it, but also like to change the subject and talk about their similar interests. “It’s easier to get through [chemotherapy] when someone is there to pass the time,” says James “you don’t focus too much on the cancer.” James’ wife, Laurie even says she doesn’t have to worry about him when she drops him off because she knows James and Gary will keep each other company. “When I pick him up he is in a good mood with high spirits,” she smiles.

Their friendship is very evident to the nurses. When Gary and James have treatment scheduled at the same time the nurses place them in their favorite corner of the room, their own personal “woods.” “The nurses are always waving and saying ‘hi’, even if they aren’t your nurse they know your name,” both nod in agreement. “The only thing we need now is steak and beer,” they both say jokingly.