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Vet Gazette

Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine eNewsletter

Cancer Survivor Relies On His CVM Family

January 24th, 2012
Techno team members

Matt McClain, Al Christensen, Lorie Kennerly, and Dave Johnson

What would the College of Veterinary Medicine do without Dave Johnson? He keeps our software up-to-date, reminds us not to open those friendly-sounding emails from obscure countries, and cheerfully undoes the wacky stuff we all subject our computers to now and then.  And on top of all that, he optimistically wears shorts to work in December.

There’s no doubt that we all appreciate Dave. But recently he found out how much his IT colleagues really do care about him. In August 2008, Dave found a lump in his neck and a CT revealed cancer. Very scary stuff but Dave kept his sense of humor.  In fact, when he was wheeled into the operating room for exploratory surgery and the doctor’s computer wouldn’t work, he told her how to fix it. “I’m lying there on the table with tubes running out of everything,” he says. “The anesthesiologist is getting ready, and I said ‘Hang on a second’.”  Dave asked the doctor to describe what she saw on the computer screen and figured out that it was plugged into the wrong port on the wall. “Everyone in the room got a good laugh out of it. I’m such a geek,” he says.

Unfortunately, the surgery revealed aggressive, stage-four cancer. The prognosis was 6-9 weeks without treatment but more than five years with treatment. Dave knew he was in for a long haul. After talking to his wife and kids, Dave called his IT co-workers with the grim news. Al Christensen, Lorie Kennerly, and Matt McClain are the original IT department at CVM; they built it from the ground up.  “The four of us in IT are a phenomenal group,” says Johnson. “We are very much a family.”

Dave went through six weeks of chemo and seven weeks of radiation. Despite losing 40 pounds, he kept his optimistic outlook. “The radiation went well and the chemo went OK – better than expected. They thought I would lose all my hair but I didn’t.  I did lose my goatee but it grew back soft. No complaints about that,” he says. Believe it or not, Dave went to work a couple of days per week throughout most of it, and when he was home, he signed-in and worked on the college systems remotely.

Dave openly expresses his gratitude to the IT team for their help and support.  “They made themselves available; there was lots of communication. They emailed, phoned and texted,” he says. And even though Dave lives in Salem, his team drove up and visited him on occasion. “I didn’t expect it because I’m an hour away,” he says. “They also talked with my family and kept up with us. Sometimes my wife, Kathy would call and ask Lori questions for me.”

The IT team tries to extend that family feeling to everyone in the college. “We want to be open and involved because we can make your life better,” Dave says. “That’s what is most important to us: sharing as much info and knowledge as we can about everything.”  They are especially focused on making their expertise available to CVM students. Every year they talk to the new students at orientation; they want students to know they are approachable and willing to help. “I want students to feel comfortable with me,” says Dave.

The surgeons removed about one-fourth of the muscle tissue in Dave’s neck and shoulder so he still isn’t working full time. He has a lot of pain, can’t raise his right arm very high, and doesn’t have much feeling in his face and neck. “I’m literally a numbskull,” he jokes. But he comes to work to be with his second family, doing what he likes best. “I love to work and I have fun here.  I meet with a lot of people — people all across the spectrum — and they are a captive audience, they have to put up with me.”

No sweat, Dave. It’s pretty easy to put up with a genuinely nice person, especially when they can fix your computer.




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