"I was the type of person who was never sick until ..."
"I was shaving one morning," Robert Lebeau remembers. "I found a lump under my ear. It was tiny, the size of your little fingernail."
The physician he consulted that very day referred him to a specialist. Tests were ordered. "They did blood work, then a biopsy and a CT Scan. They found a growth but the biopsy didn't get enough material for a definite diagnosis."
Surgery was the next step and the surgeon, Dr. John Loiodice, removed the lump-and more. "It was a mass about as big around as a grapefruit. It had started in the lymph nodes," Lebeau remembers, "and was all wrapped up in my shoulder muscles. The surgery was supposed to be three hours and ended up taking all day."
Although the tumor was a malignant form of squamus cell carcinoma, in one way Lebeau was lucky. "The surgeon thought he got everything, that it hadn't spread." Lebeau did find the subsequent radiation and recovery a challenge. "I was the type of person, ‘never sick in his life until ... .' But after the surgery, I had radiation treatments for a month, five days a week. For ten days that was fine but then I couldn't eat. It hurt to swallow."
Today Lebeau is healthy and has changed his life in many ways. In the middle of his recovery, Lebeau and his long-time companion, Denise, got married. He also set his welding tools aside after thirty years of working as a steel fabricator for a variety of local mills. "I don't know that I could blame getting cancer on work, but I've been in all the right elements - industrial exposure of all kinds." Now he devotes himself full-time to landscaping. "Whatever the customer likes, they get," he says agreeably, "from earthmoving to stone masonry to planting to mowing."
Bob Lebeau is back on his motorcycle, too (it's a Harley-Davidson Fatboy). For fun he and Denise like to go to car and motorcycle shows and rallies. When he's closer to home, he's involved with several local service groups, giving his time as a captain with the Alford Volunteer Fire Department, an EMT for the Southern Berkshire Volunteer Ambulance Squad, and as a volunteer for the Berkshire Country chapter of the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT).
At fifty-one, Lebeau is philosophical. "It's an open-book story," he says. "Life is what it is. They can't give me an all clear until it's been five years but, so far, I'm doing good."