Bill Buskirk has worked for 22 years in waste management. From driving a sanitation truck to running a crew to managing all the crews, he's not afraid of doing the dirty work.
When you ask him how's business, he'll tell you it's picking up.
Bill is quick to smile at his joke. However, in the winter of 2015, he ran into trouble with a problem of his own.
After going to the bathroom, Bill noticed blood in the toilet. A quick trip to his primary care doctor led to a gastroenterologist.
Bill scheduled a colonoscopy and woke from the procedure surrounded by different atmosphere, so he knew immediately that the news wasn't positive.
"The doctor found something that didn't look good," Bill says. A biopsy confirmed a rare form of rectal cancer.
"Things flash in your head when you first talk about cancer," he says. How would he tell his children? He thought of his mother who died from liver cancer five years earlier.
"My family and friends are positive and supportive," Bill says. "So I knew that I could count on them through this journey."
Quite an understatement from a former Marine. Bill has always used what he learned in the corps in his daily life: respect, toughness and dignity.
Bill turned to Easton Hospital in part because his sister works on the cancer floor. His oncologist there provided a solid treatment plan, but he still sought a second opinion.
"The approach from each physician was the same, so I chose a hospital where I would feel at home," he says. "Easton Hospital has always been a place I respected and trusted."
Bill worked at his job throughout his chemo. "I made a backpack I could wear in order to carry the chemo-pack around," he says.
Following chemo, he had 33 radiation treatments - a twenty-minute session five days week. The cancer was only a few centimeters into his rectum, so the radiation team had a narrow space to blast the tumor.
With air-filled cushions positioning him, Bill would lie on the table with the machine centered over four tattoos that marked the target.
After the fourth week, the side effects of the aggressive concurrent chemotherapy and radiation therapy began to significantly irritate his skin.
"I'm not a good complainer, so I just toughed it out," he says.
The irritation worsened. In fact on Easter weekend after bathing, the pain became so intense that he went to the Easton Hospital Emergency Room.
"I hadn't taken any pain medications to that point," Bill says. He was placed on morphine, but after returning home, he had an adverse reaction and began to hallucinate. The images he saw intensified until the police escorted him to the hospital.
"I was never so scared in my life," he says. "And I am not the type of guy to get scared." That night, he didn't want to sleep, afraid of what was waiting for him in his dreams.
"I cried as I fought sleep," he says. Then a nurse saw him, pulled up a chair and sat with him and talked. "She was there with me as I fell in and out of sleep," he says. "I owe her a debt of gratitude for what that meant to me."
Bill has stories like that one about the care he received both at Easton and in the community. How the "girls" on the cancer floor created a special atmosphere of genuine kindness. How his neighbors shoveling snow and cutting grass when he could not. How his wife helped him through everything.
One of his most moving moments occurred on the night of the Relay for Life. He was helping his daughter coach softball, fighting his way on to the field even when his cancer journey was at its most difficult.
After a game, he drove to the Relay event in Bangor. When he arrived, he found all three coaches, all 12 players and all of their parents. They had made him luminary bags and on the video screen were images of him and his mother.
"I held my wife's hand and cried when I saw that picture of my mom," he says. "I was overwhelmed by their show of support."
Together they lit candles and did a lap around the track.
By late August, the cancer had run its course. A colonoscopy showed no signs of the tumor.
"I was cancer free," he says with a tear. "Great news for me and even better for all around who love me."
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