On a warm summer day in 2017, Jeff Rowerdink was riding his bike home from Huntington Beach to Newport Beach along the boardwalk. He’d been to the US Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach and, as anyone who’s experienced that event knows, the beach and boardwalk were complete chaos, swarming with people. On his ride home that day, something happened to Jeff that many people would consider to be divine intervention – Jeff considers it further truth of the saying “everything happens for a reason.”
As Jeff was riding along, a man with his four-year-old son – both on bikes – quickly darted out and cut in front of Jeff. To avoid hitting the young boy, Jeff made a sharp turn and crashed his bike into the asphalt of the boardwalk. Jeff remembers laying on the ground and seeing blood everywhere. He quickly gathered himself and collected his bike off the ground. As soon as he was up, he called his wife to pick him up.
That evening Jeff knew something was wrong. He was in an extreme amount of pain. Figuring he had likely broken a rib or damaged an organ from the fall – he and his wife headed to the Fimiano Emergency Pavilion at Hoag Hospital Newport Beach at 1a.m. A few scans and x-rays later, the ER physician came in to speak with Jeff about the results.
A Hidden Discovery
“The ER doctor let me know there was good news and bad news. He said ‘there are no broken bones, there’s no internal bleeding and no organ damage – however on an unrelated note, we found a mass on your pancreas,’” said Jeff.
Jeff got a biopsy and found out the tumor on his pancreas was malignant and stage III. After speaking with his primary care physician, Jeff set up an appointment to meet with Dr. Robert R. Selby, Hoag’s Pancreas and Hepatobiliary Cancer Program Director. Dr. Selby specializes in Pancreatic Cancer surgery and utilizes minimally invasive techniques for optimal patient care.
“After reviewing the scans, Dr. Selby told me he could remove the whole tumor and as a result I would be able to avoid both chemotherapy and radiation,” explained Jeff. “I’m usually a positive person and after meeting with him, I had this overwhelming sense of assurance that it would all work out.”
Jeff and his wife support a handful of health care organizations in Southern California but he always knew Hoag would be where he would get his care. “Hoag has always been my hospital,” said Jeff. “Going somewhere else wasn’t ever even a thought of mine.”
Jeff smiles as he thinks about the day of his surgery and remembers having a room full of family and friends there to support him. He admits he had the nickname “Rower Power” growing up and laughs as he explains one of his longtime buddies had hats made for all of his supporters with the term “#RowerPower” printed on the brim. They were all wearing them that day.
Dr. Selby performed a hand-assisted laparoscopic surgery on Jeff to remove the tumor. This technique results in a smaller incision, much quicker recovery and is statistically proven to have less post-operative morbidity rates. “Jeff had a great prognosis, and with his energy, he was able to return to full functionality rather quickly,” states Dr. Selby.
Jeff beams when he explains, “After the surgery, I went back to work four days after being at home. I was even able to work out two weeks later.”
“Reflecting on my experience, it’s hard not to get emotional,” describes Jeff. “As Dr. Selby was checking everything out to discharge me home, he told me ‘I’ll see you in a year’ – I’ll never forget those words of confidence and assurance.”
Jeff has a whole new outlook on life now. He’s convinced that without the man and his son cutting him off on the bike path that day, his tumor could still be inside of him, twice the size and still symptom free. He smiles as he says, “these days I don’t let things get to me as much – if someone cuts me off on the road, I always think, ‘there could have been a reason for that!’”
It’s almost been a year to the day that Jeff had his surgery and it’s about time for him to see Dr. Selby again. In the meantime, Jeff is dedicated to spending time with his wife and three kids, continuing to work in the business of buying and selling apartment buildings, and spreading the word about the Hoag Promise campaign, and the phenomenal care he received from Dr. Selby.