It started before he was even born. In most cases, the notochord recedes during fetal life, but for Jeff Graf, the bits left behind in the spinal column, near the brain stem, stayed. And grew.
Jeff had no idea. He was busy having a life in Greentown, Ind., helping raise his two sons and daughter, working at Chrysler as an electrician, hunting and fishing, and dealing with typical health issues like high blood pressure.
During a routine blood pressure check, his doctor ordered a CT scan, which revealed a mass. Jeff's doctor assumed it was mucous. It wasn't until he arrived at the IU Health Proton Center that he received a diagnosis of chordoma —a rare slow-growing tumor thought to form from notochord remains. The physicians there were shocked. Jeff had no symptoms of chordomas: dizziness, headaches, or loss of vision or balance. They said he was lucky that they found the tumor. To this Jeff responded, "I believe in God, and I believe He put me here in the right place at the right time."
In August 2010, Jeff began his treatment regiment at the Proton Center – 42 treatments over nine weeks. He described the staff members as amazing, noting, "Every day they greeted me with smiles and did everything to make treatment go as easily as they could."
Jeff was also impressed with the level of perfection and precision involved with his treatment process. During one of his first visits to the Center, one of the physicians was displeased with the quality of Jeff's MRI. Another MRI was ordered. It, too, was "imperfect," according to Jeff. So, his doctor ordered yet another one, and came in on his day off to make sure he received exactly the results he needed to plan treatments. The last three weeks of proton beam treatment were a little rough, Jeff recalls. He felt generally "off." Things tasted bad. He lost a little hair. But when that passed, he felt better and was able to visit many of the sites throughout Bloomington.
Jeff and his wife stayed at a condominium at Eagle Pointe on the Lake Monroe Reservoir, home to 13,200 acres of protected forest and three recreational areas. The condo was available to them via HoosiersCare, one of the housing partners offering affordable, furnished housing for patients of the Proton Therapy Center. Together they also visited many state parks, restaurants, and local events. They enjoyed pudding and ice cream at the annual Persimmon Festival and took in the beautiful Southern Indiana countryside and historic covered bridges at the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival.
To date, Jeff remains cancer free. The only evidence of his treatment is the dark patch of hair that grew back against his full head of gray hair. He feels great, and has happily gone back to his wonderful life in Greentown.