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Why I'm Alive. Patient Stories
Josif Wittnik Jamie Hill Judy Russell

To schedule an appointment with a clinician near you, call 877.642.2778.

Find cancer treatment centers near you: North / Central WI Eastern WI
Josif Wittnik Josif Wittnik Josif Wittnik
Why I'm Alive

Josif Wittnik knows the monster that is cancer. A few years ago, he co-founded a nonprofit called Joy Rising Project to provide cancer patients with realistic and comfortable wigs so they can look and feel like themselves during treatment. In the time the organization has been around, he’s served hundreds of women.

“I talked to so many women about the cancer journey, about their ports, about chemotherapy treatments, but I didn’t realize what went on behind closed doors,” he says.

In 2013, Wittnik was making frequent visits to see his Affinity Medical Group (AMG) primary care doctor for a different health issue when he was referred to Dr. Ron Slovick, an AMG urologist at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton, for follow-up. For two years, Dr. Slovick monitored Wittnik’s prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which is a protein produced by cells of the prostate gland. A simple screening test measures the level of PSA in a man’s blood, and if the blood level of PSA is elevated, it’s likely to mean prostate cancer.

Normal PSA levels are a 4 or lower; Wittnik’s levels climbed from 5 to 11 in a year and a half, and in December 2015, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

“That was a frightening day,” he remembers. “When I heard the news, I lost all my strength temporarily. My cape came off, and I cried and cried and cried. Dr. Slovick had to talk to my wife, Joy, about the plan, because I had checked out mentally.”

After undergoing surgery to remove his prostate in January 2016, Wittnik was cleared of cancer.

“I wasn’t going to let this take over my life,” he says. “After months and months of carrying that worry around, my backpack was quite heavy. I was so focused on my businesses, but when I went home at night, I was really frightened by the possibilities of what could happen to me. I don’t want to know what would have happened to me if Dr. Slovick hadn’t monitored me.”

As co-owner of Salon CTI and Day Spa in Appleton, owner of Salon Professional Academy, and opening a wig boutique as part of the Joy Rising Project at St. Elizabeth Hospital called Joy - A Hair Studio, Wittnik weighed the options of going public with the news of his diagnosis.

A producer at Fox 11 News, who Wittnik knows from doing the Monday Morning Makeover segment on Good Day WI, convinced him to share his story on the show in February for one reason.

“How often do you hear that men have cancer?” Wittnik asks. “Not often, because we don’t talk about it. What kills men is the fear, not the cancer. We aren’t invincible. We have to ditch this ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude. Talk to your doctor about it.”

In order to receive a PSA screening test, men over 50 are encouraged to request it when they visit with their primary care clinician.

Josif Wittnik
Jamie Hill Jamie Hill Jamie Hill
Why I'm Alive

Jamie Hill feared knowing.

“I kept saying to my husband, ‘I don’t want to go through with all of this and then end up dying and leaving you with these bills,’” she says. “But I came to the realization that I’m too young; there is too much good going on in my life.”

Hill will celebrate her 59th birthday this September cancer-free. Last September, she was in the middle of treatment for stage three breast cancer. Her story starts many months prior when she knew something didn’t feel quite right, but the fear of the “what if” and medical bills kept her from going into the clinic to have it checked out.

“Even though my mom died from breast cancer, I never went in for mammograms,” Hill admits. “I didn’t feel sick, and I didn’t want to spend money.”

In July 2015, after months of postponing, she scheduled an appointment to see her primary care clinician, Sara Olson, APNP, for a physical at Ministry Medical Group Clinic in Tomahawk. Olson then scheduled an appointment for Hill that same afternoon at Ministry Saint Mary’s Hospital in Rhinelander to have a mammogram and ultrasound done. Two days later, they performed a biopsy.

Her greatest fear came true; it was cancer.

“After I found out, the emotions I experienced were centered on how everyone else was going to deal with it,” Hill says, remembering the moment she pulled over on the side of the road to call her daughter with the news. “But I knew I had to fight it, so that’s what I did.”

A week later, she met with the team at James Beck Cancer Center to map out her plan. Hill completed 16 long weeks of chemotherapy before having her right breast removed on December 29. Then, she started 21 radiation treatments. On April 6, 2016, she celebrated her final radiation treatment.

“The team is so special,” she says of the James Beck Cancer Center care team. “When I’m there, they ask what they can do, if they get me something, how I’m really feeling. They take the time.”

Shortly after her diagnosis, Hill found out she was going to be a grandma for the second time.

“That gave me more reason to fight,” she remembers. “I had to be here so the baby gets to know me.”

Hill wishes she hadn’t been so stubborn and would have gone in sooner to have it checked out. Today, she hopes other women read her story and, if they are delaying like she did, find the courage to schedule a mammogram.

“I am alive because of the love I have for my family and the love they have for me,” she says. “It’s important to get the screening done–if not for yourself, for your family. Your family doesn’t want to lose you.”

Jamie Hill
Judy Russell Judy Russell Judy Russell
Why I'm Alive

Judy Russell was 36 years old when she underwent her first breast biopsy. Forty years and three more biopsies later, she has become an advocate for annual mammograms in her community, especially for those who are close in age to her.

Every biopsy Russell underwent turned out to be benign – until last summer.

“I went in for my annual mammogram at Mercy Medical Center and they saw a tiny, tiny dot,” says the 76-year-old Oshkosh resident. “So they did an ultrasound and a few days later they performed a biopsy. It was no different than any other biopsy I had done.”

On June 10, 2015, the radiologist called to say there was a small area of cancer in her right breast, but that it was really treatable. It was so small, in fact, that she wouldn’t have been able to feel it while doing a self-breast exam, which she did often.

“Heaven knows when I would have felt something,” she says. “That mammogram is the reason it was caught early, and the reason I’m here today.”

On June 26, Russell had a lumpectomy and began treatment at St. Elizabeth Hospital’s Michael D. Wachtel Cancer Center in Oshkosh shortly thereafter. Because the cancer was detected early, chemotherapy wasn’t necessary, but treatment did call for radiation.

The only problem was, Russell had a pilgrimage to Ireland planned and was scheduled to leave in September. In learning this news, her doctors and care team sat down with her to compare calendars and map out a treatment schedule that would accommodate Russell’s plans.

“Instead of having 25 radiation treatments, they broke it into 16 treatments at a higher dosage,” she says. “That way I could finish radiation and have one month to recoup before my trip. How is that for personalization?”

She celebrated her final treatment on August 14 and left for Ireland on September 14.

A freelance columnist with the Oshkosh Northwestern, Russell wrote an article last July to encourage women to have their mammogram. Like many women, she thought her chances of cancer decreased as she aged.

According to the American Cancer Society, the older a woman is, the more likely she is to get breast cancer. Diagnosis rates begin to increase after age 40 and are highest in women over age 70.

“A woman I know was in her 70s and her doctor told her she didn’t need to have a mammogram every year anymore,” Russell recalls. “But she knew my story, so she made the decision to have it anyway. I know other women who have skipped their mammogram for one year, and then when they finally went for their mammogram, they found cancer.”

As Russell noted in her July column, she has joined the sisterhood of women diagnosed with breast cancer, and while she is proud to be a survivor, she hopes her story will persuade others to pick up the phone and schedule their mammogram.

Judy Russell

To schedule an appointment with a clinician near you, call 877.642.2778.

Find cancer treatment centers near you: North / Central WI Eastern WI