During the past six years, the Keegans have approached every problem they’ve encountered in a similar way: identify, understand, then reach for a solution. Three times, Terry’s been leveled by cancer news; and three times, it didn't add up to him. A Pittsburgh native and engineer, Terry planned his life in detail at a young age, each step designed to make him a more successful husband, father and worker. He married his college sweetheart, started a family before 30 and oversaw an eight-figure budget as a director of engineering before he was 31. He ate well, never smoked and barely drank. So, in 2011, when a doctor told him that biopsy results from the lesion at the base of his tongue revealed squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, Terry, then 54, fainted in the consultation room.
After consulting with his doctor at Ohio State University, Terry underwent surgery. They removed the tumor on his tongue and 66 lymph nodes to be sure. The threat seemed to be gone. Still, just over a year later; the cancer reappeared in the muscle layers of his neck, a perplexing development given the site of the original tumor.
This time, surgery alone wouldn’t suffice. Terry began a regimen of platinum-based chemotherapy combined with radiation of all affected areas—his tongue and around his neck—five days a week for seven weeks. Four weeks in he had to have a feeding tube inserted, since he could no longer eat or swallow normally. It remained in place for more than two months after he finished treatment.
But the biggest blow came in the summer of 2014, when Terry’s one-year PET scan revealed three spots on his right lung. It was still squamous cell carcinoma, but now it was metastatic. On a Friday night in August, the night before one of Terry’s favorite events of the year—a charity bike ride to benefit the cancer center at OSU—his doctor told Donna that her husband had a year, possibly slightly longer, left to live.