Teamwork Helps Coach Fight Cancer

Tony Dlouhy

Photo by Mark Whitmore.

The longtime varsity baseball coach at Springville High School, Tony Dlouhy knows about teamwork. Because of his team at the Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center, he was able to continue coaching the Orioles last summer while battling stage four bone cancer in his jaw.

“Being told you have stage four cancer is like being handed a death sentence,” Dlouhy said. “The doctors didn’t waste any time. They scheduled me for surgery just days after my diagnosis. We were going to attack this thing.”

After 38 years of chewing tobacco, Dlouhy had malignant cancer form in the lower left side of his mouth, forcing surgeons to remove that jaw on Feb. 5.

“They got all of the tumor and then I had to start the long road back to recovery,” Dlouhy said. “I was happy and angry all at the same time. I did this to myself because of a decision that I made when I was just a kid.”

Tony Dlouhy

Springville High School baseball coach Tony Dlouhy returned to coach the Orioles this summer while battling stage four bone cancer in his jaw. Photo by Karlie Nulle.

Dlouhy has turned his decision to start chewing tobacco as a teenager into a teaching opportunity with his players. “Sometimes decisions you make and the things you do as a young kid can come back to haunt you,” he said.

Motivated to be with his baseball team at the first practice on April 31, Dlouhy leaned on his team at the Nassif Community Cancer Center to help him through the toughest time of his life.

“Everything was a whirlwind, but the team came together right away,” he said. “I went from being the coach to being coached.”

With the Nassif Community Cancer Center’s Connie Dietiker, RN serving as his care coordinator, Dlouhy was a patient of Drs. Jeffrey Krivit of Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa Ear, Nose & Throat; Bharat Jenigiri, PCI Hematology & Oncology; and Bobby Koneru, of the St. Luke’s Nassif Radiation Center. Other members of the team included Lesley Vancura, ARNP of PCI Hematology & Oncology; Brook Sternberg, ARNP of UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s Palliative Care; Nancy Yeisley, a social worker at the Nassif Community Cancer Center; the center’s dietitians, Beth Beckett and Mary Beth Peiffer; and Physical and Integrative Wellness Program Manager Matt Schmitz.

“I didn’t know my team would be that huge and diverse,” Dlouhy said. “Everything is right here, which makes it convenient.”

“The Nassif Community Cancer Center exists to provide a seamless transition for people who are diagnosed with cancer,” said director Kimberly Ivester.

“The goal is to not only to support patients, but to support their caregivers and family members, as well as our physician community partners,” she said. “The Nassif Community Cancer Center places the patient at the center of all we do.”

Dlouhy started radiation and chemotherapy on March 1, and gradually began to lose his ability to taste or produce saliva. He lost weight, including 32 pounds in a two-week stretch, on an all-liquid diet.

“I couldn’t eat,” Dlouhy said. “I just couldn’t keep anything down.”

By the time he finished radiation and chemotherapy treatments in mid-April, he had lost more than 70 pounds. Over the summer, Dlouhy gradually gained energy while coaching the Orioles – including his son, Gabe, the youngest of his three children. With his team at the Nassif Community Cancer Center, he is on the road to recovery.

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