Community support makes difference for man braving pancreatic cancer

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Marcelle Wood is an active young father with two kids and a passion for snowboarding, so it came as “a total shock” when he was diagnosed with stage-four pancreatic cancer last April.

“It was a life-changing event,” Wood said, speaking with the Inter Lake at Glacier Perks in Lakeside.

Wood explained that early in 2019, he had some “abdominal discomfort that would kind of come and go,” and as it became more constant he went to a doctor to get checked out. Following some blood samples and an ultrasound, a doctor encouraged Wood to get a CT scan.

Not wanting to wait, Wood got his CT scan at the emergency room. The scan revealed a tumor on his pancreas and some additional spots on his liver.

Wings Regional Cancer Support, a local nonprofit organization, was there to help when Wood and his family visited the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in May for a second opinion. The organization paid for Wood and his family’s transportation, lodging and food during their trip to Seattle.

“They gave us the resources to go where we needed to go,” Wood said.

For better or worse, the doctors in Seattle had the same opinion as the doctors in Kalispell, but said Wood could do his chemotherapy and other treatments in the Flathead Valley.

Wood had to leave his two jobs – he was a general manager at MacKenzie River Pizza and a bartender for Sunrift Brewing – in order to focus on his treatment and recovery.

“Chemotherapy is my job, recovery is my job,” he said.

“I went from working six days a week in a hyper-social job setting that I really loved … to basically being a stay-at-home dad.”

He said for his type of cancer, the treatment is “going as well as it possibly could.”

Wood receives infusions once a week for three weeks at The Rock medical facility, then gets a week to let his body recover. He said his treatment is working “a lot” – the cancer has not spread anywhere else, and his tumor “has shrunk a bit.”

“Other than having the cancer, I’m extremely healthy. I’m not 40 yet, so I have that going for me. I’m still young,” Wood said. “My youth and my health other than the cancer makes it so that I can handle the chemotherapy well.”

Wood still snowboards at Blacktail Mountain and plays with his dog and kids at their home in Rollins. He is also enjoying the opportunity to read books again.

“My wife [Jessi] has the harder job than I do; she has to work and deal with the stress of having a spouse that has cancer.”

Though the cancer is not getting worse, Wood said “it is scary as hell; it’s scary all the time.” He said he still has friends and loved ones that are “still trying to process it and having a harder time than I am.”

But Wood has been amazed by the support system in the Flathead Valley.

“The support system here in Kalispell is very robust,” he said, calling himself “lucky” to receive such an outpouring of support from the community.

For instance, in June, the owners of Sunrift Brewing threw an all-day benefit for Wood in the parking lot of the brewery, featuring food trucks and local bands.

“It was like a little festival,” Wood said. “The community, our friends and loved ones were able to raise a lot of money, enough for us to put into a trust to help with whatever … just daily life. And that’s been amazing.”

But Wood said he knows not everyone is in the same situation.

“I know there’s people that use it [Wings] for a lot more than we do,” Wood said.

“It [Wings] was organized and robust and sincere and nothing short of amazing, really,” he added. “I knew that the organization existed but I didn’t know anything about it.”

In 2019, Wings assisted 147 cancer patients with $168,000. It has reimbursed over $2.7 million in travel expenses for 3,339 cancer patients since 1997.

The organization will hold its 24th annual fundraiser and radiothon on Jan. 16-17.

Wood encouraged people to donate to the organization, saying that “everybody in this valley knows somebody who has cancer and can use it to their benefit.”

“Somebody you know either needs this service or is going to need this service someday, and it’s available only through donation,” Wood said. “It’s a robust system that can only stay that way if people contribute to it.”

Wood offered some advice for others who experience an unexpected and shocking cancer diagnosis.

“Use the support system that’s available in Kalispell. Learn about it if you don’t know about it,” he said. “Find somebody to talk to about the whole process, like a counselor or friend. That’s been crucial for me.”

Reporter Colin Gaiser may be reached at 758-4439 or cgaiser@dailyinterlake.com

Wings Regional Cancer Support, the local nonprofit organization that helps cancer patients with out-of-pocket expenses, will hold its 24th annual fundraiser and radiothon on Jan. 16-17.

“Our goal is to help our friends and neighbors in Northwest Montana who are dealing with the devastating diagnosis of cancer,” wrote Brandann Rohrer, president of the Wings board, in a letter to local business owners.

The radiothon will be broadcast from Sportsman & Ski Haus in Kalispell and can be heard on all Bee Broadcasting radio stations. Tax-deductible donations can be pledged by phone at 257-9464 or at Sportsman throughout the radiothon.

Donors can also mail their pledges to Wings at P.O. Box 7852, Kalispell, MT, 59904.

Wings assisted 147 people in 2019 – 47 in Flathead County, 26 in Lake County and 74 in Lincoln County. The oldest recipient of Wings assistance was 87 while the youngest was 8 years old.

Since 1997, Wings has used $2.7 million to help 3,339 cancer patients.

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