CLEAR LAKE — Justin Anderson seems like a typical 26-year-old guy.
He’s bright, funny, cheerful and laid-back. Likes to hang out at coffee houses.
There’s just one big difference.
“I’ve got two to five years,” he says, grinning with determination that he will beat the odds.
Two to five years is the average life expectancy for a person with the type of tumor discovered in his brain last May.
Anderson, who lives in Clear Lake, was working as a bartender at Buffalo Wild Wings when he became concerned about an ongoing headache.
It wasn’t that it was so painful, he said. It just wouldn’t go away. And he felt it only when he did certain things like cough, sneeze or bend over.
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“I knew it was different and that something wasn’t right,” he said. “You know your body.”
His family physician, Dr. Donald Berge, ordered an MRI.
“He said he’d see me in a few days to go over the results,” Anderson said. “But within a couple hours he called me. I knew as soon as I heard his voice that something was wrong.”
Berge told him the MRI had detected a mass. He sent Anderson to Mason City neurosurgeon Dr. David Beck.
Beck told him the tumor was small and was in a good spot to operate. With the backing of his family, Anderson opted for the operation as soon as possible.
“I was scared to death,” Anderson said. “I was scared but I was confident that it was just a benign tumor. Everything was going to be all right. I’d have a cool scar and that’s it.”
The surgery, on June 8, went well. Beck told Anderson he removed the tumor “and then some.”
Anderson named his tumor “Elvis.”
“He’s left the building now,” he said with a laugh.
A week later, Anderson and his family learned the unthinkable: The tumor was malignant, a stage-three anaplastic astrocytoma.
“I was shocked,” he said.
For insurance purposes, he was to be treated at Iowa City with an aggressive program of radiation and chemotherapy.
He was told he could be battling the cancer for the rest of his life.
From July 12 through Aug. 24, Anderson lived free at Hope Lodge, near the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. He underwent radiation treatment for five days a week and chemotherapy every day.
“I handled it very, very well,” he said. “About the only complaint I had was I was just exhausted. And everything I ate tasted like metal.”
When he returned home, he had a month off from the treatment, then resumed chemotherapy — which he takes as a pill before bed — Monday through Friday. He stops for three weeks, then goes back on for a week.
There are six cycles. If all goes well, Anderson will be finished in February.
He has checkups at Iowa City every month and MRIs every few months.
Recently, he began volunteering at the American Cancer Society.
“Before this happened I didn’t give a second look at people with cancer,” Anderson said. “I feel completely blessed that this is happening. It opens your eyes to so much.”
He has made a vow that he will be a voice and an advocate for cancer research.
He has created a Facebook page, “Killing cancer with rock and roll.” He encourages anyone interested to be a part of it.
And he is determined to beat the odds.
“I’m going to live 74 more years, seriously,” he said. “I’m going to die when I’m 100. I’ve already got it planned out. If it happens before then, it’s a fluke.”