IU Health Simon Cancer Center

It’s simple – Patient just wants to live the best life with his diagnosis

Patient Stories

January 03, 2020

Diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, Gary Wilcoxen is in the care of Dr. S. Hamid Sayar and is looking forward to getting back to his life in Vermillion County.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

He was sitting in his red Chevy Silverado. He started the engine but he didn’t know what to do next. He was leaving his shift at Thyssenkrupp, a German steel manufacturing company.

But Gary Wilcoxen couldn’t remember how to operate his vehicle. Minutes before he climbed into the driver’s seat of his truck, he had a co-worker explain to him how to operate a machine that Wilcoxen had been running for more than 20 years.

His mind was blank.

“He showed me how to run the machine and about 10 minutes later he showed me again,” said Wilcoxen, 53. “After my shift, I’d just sit in my truck. I didn’t know what to do next.”

Those alarms rang loudly in Amy Wilcoxen’s ears. Married 16 years the couple met through a mutual friend. They both grew up in Perrysville, a small community on the Indiana/Illinois state line on the west side of the Wabash River. Gary spent years farming for his dad. In his youth he was an active 4-H member – showing cattle and sheep. One of his hobbies is collecting toy farm tractors – primarily Massey Ferguson.

He’d been healthy all his life. When he wasn’t working around the house or at his dad’s Gary was lending a hand shoveling snow, mowing fields, or unloading rock for friends and neighbors. Those same friends, neighbors, family and coworkers purchased orange t-shirts with the message “His fight is our fight” on the front. They call themselves the “Wilcoxen Warriors.”

When Amy learned that Gary was disoriented, she got him to a hospital near his home.

“They did a blood work up and his white cells were through the roof. The next day they did a biopsy that confirmed leukemia,” said Amy. He spent three nights in a Danville, Ill. hospital before coming to IU Health Simon Cancer Center, where he is in the care of Dr. S. Hamid Sayar. He started chemotherapy in August and will complete his treatments on January 2.

“I’m not as confused now so I know something is changing in my body,” said Wilcoxen. Since September he has been having consolidation chemotherapy hoping to sustain remission, said his wife.

“We’ve been so blessed with everyone at IU Health,” said Amy. “They are like family away from home. We’ve gotten to know so many of the nurses. They come to see us even if Gary isn’t their patient.”

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Cancer

Cancer care includes a variety of treatments, systematic therapies, surgery and clinical trials.

Leukemia

A cancer of the blood caused by the bone marrow producing abnormal white blood cells that crowd out healthy ones.