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Winning the fight

Upper Sandusky superintendent coming back from cancer

October 7, 2007
UPPER SANDUSKY — The odds said Ken Doseck wasn’t supposed to eat, swallow — or even survive a year — after surgery for cancer. But somebody else had other ideas.

Doseck said he asked God to spare his life, but what happened was far beyond his request.

“He’s not done with me yet. I must still have something to accomplish,” he said. “He’s not done with me, that’s for sure.”

Doseck, superintendent of the Upper Sandusky Exempted Village School District, said he bought more life insurance in February, 2006 and was given a preferred rate because he was in excellent health.

“In August, here I am, being diagnosed with cancer and being told to go home and die,” he said.

Doseck, 55, said he’s had three checkups, and all came back with no cause for concern. Mary, his wife of 24 years, said his next appointments are Oct. 25, 26 and 29.

“Prognosis looks good. That’s what they told me,” Doseck said.



‘Trust in him’

Doseck recalled getting bitten by a mosquito on a Fourth of July camping trip, and the lump in his neck wouldn’t go away. He had some checkups, and a doctor told him to have the lump checked.

He learned he had stage 4 squamous carcinoma in the lymph nodes in his head and neck, and it had metastasized. There was a slim chance, with his type of cancer, that it would be confined to his head and neck area.

Doseck said he went through a heart-wrenching weekend when he told his children he probably would die.

Dianne Grafmiller, Doseck’s secretary in the superintendent’s office, recalled she and Doseck were the only people in the office when he returned from the doctor’s office. He stood in the doorway and told her he was told he had cancer and was dying. Grafmiller said she didn’t know what to do.

“I didn’t know how he would react to me just getting up and hugging him, but that’s what I did,” she said. “He cried, and I cried.”

Doseck was new to the Upper Sandusky district in May 2006. He split his time between the local district and the Wayne Trace Local School District as he worked as a consultant to negotiate contracts and reorganize the administrative team.

He said he took over the superintendency at Upper Sandusky in August 2006. He gave a welcome-back speech to the staff, and within two days, he told them he was supposed to go home to die.

“The Upper Sandusky staff was shocked, but they’ve been golden to me,” he said.

Grafmiller said she had been through a similar situation before, with a previous superintendent.

“I really didn’t know Mr. Doseck that well; he came and, like, two weeks later was diagnosed with neck and throat cancer,” she said. “It was quite a blow. All that comes back, and you think, ‘Oh dear,’ but he was very strong through it all.”

Doseck said the mosquito bite had nothing to do with his cancer, and he doesn’t know what would have happened had he not been bitten. He hadn’t noticed the lump prior to the bite.

Doseck said he doesn’t know how he got cancer, but if people understood why everything happened to them, they wouldn’t need God.

“I don’t think God wants that of us,” he said. “I think he wants us to trust in him, and I certainly learned that.”



‘No explanation’

After the diagnosis, Doseck started to see what could be done to treat his cancer.

Doseck said his first appointment was supposed to be Sept. 25, 2006, but a friend walked into his office Sept. 4 and asked when his appointment would be and at which hospital.

The friend told Doseck he had friends in high places — and Doseck wasn’t waiting that long.

A half-hour after his friend left, Doseck received a phone call that informed him his first visit would be two days later.

“I’ll never forget that small miracle,” he said.

Doseck said one small miracle led to another.

“I was miraculously placed with one of the best surgeons in the United States,” he said.

Dr. David Schuller, deputy director of the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State University Medical Center, treated Doseck.

In three weeks’ time, Doseck had operations for a port and feeding tube and had five teeth removed. When his chest and abdominal X-rays were clear, people saw a glimmer of hope that his cancer was confined to his head and neck.

Doseck was told his neck would be disfigured, and only half his neck would remain. Had this happened five or 10 years ago, he said, that might have been true — but his neck is intact.

Doseck said he was cut from his shoulder to his ear to his throat, and he had 31 lymph nodes removed and 10 biopsies. His cheek, gums, nasal cavities and tongue all were cut.

He said he didn’t let himself sleep right after surgery, fearing he would suffocate.

“I was dead tired, but I did not go to sleep,” he said.

Doseck had to learn to breathe again with his mouth open. He endured amifostine shots, chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

Mrs. Doseck drove her husband to appointments and tried to figure out how to make him comfortable during car trips. She said she never figured out the right way to drive.

“The least little bit of movement would just make him more nauseous,” she said. “It just really made him nauseous — more nauseous — and (he was) already 24/7 being nauseous. … You just get through it. There’s nothing else you can do.”

Doseck, who’s now 48 pounds lighter, also had to deal with eating.

He said he tried to find food that he could keep down, but eating was distasteful and nauseating. He compared it to eating road kill.

“But you know you have to do it and put something down, just to survive,” he said.

Doseck said not one in 10 with his operation would be able to swallow or eat every day. He also learned there was a slim chance his taste buds would return, but he now can taste butter and salt.

Doseck said he hasn’t been nauseous in about four months, and he’s starting to be able to taste sweet foods. He eats Lucky Charms cereal for breakfast every morning and says something in the marshmallows allows him to taste the sweetness.

Doseck said he brings his breakfast to work each day, and he uses the time to turn on his computer. It takes him longer to eat and swallow because he is missing some teeth.

“I don’t have the saliva that other people have,” he said. “I get along pretty well right now. … It does take me longer to eat than most people.”

Doseck said not one in 10 would live to talk about the surgery a year later — but he celebrated his one-year anniversary about a month ago.

“There’s no explanation for me to be here,” he said.



‘Opened my eyes’

Doseck said he believes he’s alive because of the prayers of others.

“I believe God has given me the gift of life to show others the power of their prayers and to allow me to serve as an example of what their faith in him can do,” he said.

Doseck’s office at Upper Sandusky is a testament to the support of others. Cards decorated with animals, butterflies, flowers, lighthouses, rainbows and religious symbols cover a wall, and he said the notes are reminders of faith and what it can do.

He said he doesn’t know how many cards he’s received.

“I have a lot of friends,” he said. “I guess I stand here in all humility. … You surround yourself with good people, and you work with them to accomplish the great things in life. Rarely — if ever — is something great accomplished acting alone.”

Sometimes, Doseck said, people have to get sick before they realize how blessed they are.

“This cancer’s been a very tough thing for me to do, but it’s also been a wonderful thing,” he said. “My cancer’s been a bane and a blessing to me because it’s opened my eyes to a lot of things, and I actually see the world differently.”

Doseck said he tries to accept the fact that things happen for a reason, even if he doesn’t understand why.

“I’m a lot better at trusting in God now than I ever was before,” he said. “I still tend to be a control freak; I want to know everything that’s going on and why, but I do a lot better job. … I’ve learned to let go of a lot more and just trust in God.”

Doseck said he’s been given an extension on life.

“I have not beaten (the) odds; others have beaten the odds for me through their prayers and interaction,” he said. “When you are as sick as I was for a very long time, you’re too sick most of the time to even think about praying for yourself.”



‘Do my best’

Doseck said he wasn’t as visible at school as he would have liked to have been. He still worked at Upper Sandusky during chemotherapy and radiation and says he missed about 20 days overall.

Doseck said the school board let him adjust his schedule, so some days he came in to work at 3:30 or 4 a.m. so he would be able to make his cancer appointments later in the day.

“I’m sure like most people, you keep your mind busy,” Grafmiller said. “It helps.”

Grafmiller said she and Ken never talked about his interests when he first started at Upper Sandusky. Those discussions didn’t happen until recently because he had other things on his mind, she said.

“Gee, he’s done so well. He’s starting to get his taste back,” she said. “It’s been fun getting to know him now that’s he’s feeling better.”

Doseck said he is getting his strength back and is out and about as much as it allows. He said he’s returning to 10- to 12-hour days.

He said he gets up at 5:30 a.m. and is tired at 4 p.m. If he goes home to take a half-hour nap, he’s good for another eight hours.

“If I take a power nap, I’m OK,” he said. “I just try to do what I need to do — do my best and try to get out now.”



‘Fish to be caught’

Doseck said his wife has been a “dedicated angel” and a “real trooper.” Mrs. Doseck said she truly believed her husband would get better and never felt he was going to die.

“I just didn’t have the feeling,” she said. “I’ve been wrong before, but thank God we didn’t have to go through anything like that.”

She said her husband really thought he was dying during times when he felt bad — those thoughts weren’t often — and he would express his thoughts about not being sure he would make it through.

“I’d say, ‘Oh yes you are,’” she said. “I’d say, ‘Hey, there’s fish to be caught.’ … Now, he’s fishing now, so that’s his little heaven, heaven on earth.”’

Doseck, an avid fisherman, said he will be out fishing with friends on a boat and notice nature. He said he’ll ask what price can be placed on such beauty.

“I do that a lot,” he said.

And, he notices landscape and sunsets.

“Just look at that. Is that beautiful or what?” he will say.

Despite the difficulties in the cancer diagnosis, Mrs. Doseck and her husband have had good times, too. She said she’s told her husband they would just enjoy sitting together on the couch.

“When he was feeling good, we just really appreciated him feeling good,” she said.

Mrs. Doseck said her husband inspired her by getting up, going to work and keeping a positive attitude. His faith and people praying for him helped the family through it, she said.

“He never gave up,” she said.

Doseck said he’s glad he’s here.

“There is hope,” he said. “My hope came when I was completely at peace with whatever God wanted to do with me. … I was willing to accept death, and I was willing to fight for my life.”



Article Photos

PHOTO BY JIM SHOBE
Superintendent Ken Doseck sits at his desk in the Upper Sandusky Exempted Village School District’s administrative suite.

 
 

 

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