Mike Neeson

After cancer, there are no bad shots

Mike Neeson makes it a priority to enjoy every day with his wife, Patty, and sons Ben and Nick. “Because of the donations, because of the work, there are still four people in this photo where there easily could have been three,” he says.

For Mike Neeson, any day on the golf course is a great day.

Mike says he has always been a positive person. “But getting a little dose of your mortality is not necessarily a bad thing,” he adds.

Mike had barely been to a doctor in his life before the spring of 2008, when the 45-year-old husband and father started having digestive problems. When cutting dairy and gluten out of his diet didn’t help, his doctor recommended a colonoscopy—which revealed a large mass in his lower colon. He was referred to University of Minnesota Health colorectal surgeon David Rothenberger, M.D.

Rothenberger—a member of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, and chairman of the U’s Department of Surgery—confirmed that the mass was colon cancer, and that it had spread to Mike’s seminal vesicle, prostate, and lungs. Mike underwent eight weeks of simultaneous chemotherapy and radiation before an intense 11-hour surgery in January 2009 to remove his rectum, seminal vesicle, prostate, and bladder (which suffered damage during his radiation). And as he was getting used to life with colostomy and urostomy bags, he started another 26 weeks of chemotherapy.

After that, Mike felt good for about two years. But then he developed a cough that he just couldn’t shake. One of the four tumors in his lungs had started to grow, University of Minnesota Health hematologist/oncologist and Masonic Cancer Center member Edward Greeno, M.D., told him. So he underwent a partial lobectomy to remove it and then started yet another 26-week regimen of chemotherapy to keep the other nodes at bay.

Despite all of this and some other complications, Mike has insisted on being optimistic. He and his wife, Patty, now help to raise money for colon cancer research at the Masonic Cancer Center. And he’s so grateful to his care team that he volunteers to speak to others who are facing the same procedures he has had—determined to show them that life is not over.

For Mike, it’s far from over. He boats, bikes, skis, and golfs, just like he did before he had cancer.

Mike’s golf buddies have welcomed him back to the course with open arms—first asking how he’s doing, then asking about his golf game.

“I’d say, ‘It’s perfect! I haven’t hit a bad shot all year,’” Mike quips. “Then they’d kind of roll their eyes. I try to tell people—it could go in the sand trap, it could go out of bounds, it could go in the water … there are no bad shots.”