From newborn baby to colon cancer, the last 14 days have been an emotional whirlwind for Nate and Darcy Metschke.
Two Wednesdays ago the Neligh family welcomed baby number three — Ansley Grace. Last Wednesday, Nate had surgery to remove his sigmoid colon and all of the lymph nodes around it. This Wednesday, they’re telling their story in hopes of saving a life, saving someone who may have the same symptoms as Nate.
“We’re hoping this Wednesday is less eventful,” Darcy said while holding Ansley, now just 14 days old.
Wednesday, March 1, also happens to be the first day of Colon Cancer Awareness Month. And that now has special meaning for the Metschke family.
“If I had one do-over — just one thing — it would be to go to the doctor sooner,” Nate said. “I should have gone six months earlier. I had symptoms, but I thought I was invincible. We say teenagers think they’re invinsible, but so do 30-40-year-old men.”
There’s really no stereotype for who gets colon cancer, or any cancer for that matter. But it shouldn’t be Nate Metschke.
He’s a 38-year-old Neligh-Oakdale band teacher who couldn’t dare make it through a winter concert without spewing a pun or one-liner to the crowd. After all, it’s tradition.
He’s the guy who spends nine months with students just to turn around and hire them on as detasseling crew to help teach them real-life responsibility, work ethic and the value of a dollar. He’s the guy behind the “We Support Neligh” campaign that brought the community out of its slump of negativity simply by reminding people to support one another.
And he’s now the guy with colon cancer — and there are no “butts” about it — because those jokes never get old to a guy like Nate.
Now he’s the guy openly “talking about poop” in hopes that his story leads someone experiencing symptoms to go to the doctor for an early diagnosis.
“I have two stories for you from two days — Thursday and Friday last week,” Nate said. “My mom was here watching the kids and someone from Neligh approached her and asked about my symptoms and how I knew I had cancer. It turns out the lady’s husband has the same symptoms. At the hospital, an employee asked why I was there. He has the same symptoms I did. It’s more common than you think.”
Nate said people don’t like to talk about colonoscopies or their stool, for obvious reasons. But he said it’s all part of life and nothing doctors haven’t heard before. It’s becoming more comfortable for Nate to casually discuss with people.
“The more I’ve been through the less embarrassing it seems to me,” he said. “At first, it was embarrassing, but it’s life.”
Do I Have Cancer?
Nate’s main symptom was the most common -- blood in his stool. It might not have been cancer. It could have been an ulcer, colitis or any number of digestive issues. Actually, Nate thought it was a hemorrhoid and brushed off going to the doctor.
Many months passed before Nate finally made an appointment to see Dr. Troy Dawson at Antelope Memorial Hospital in Neligh. He needed a colonoscopy, which Dr. Roger Rudloff performed three days later since Dawson was under the weather.
“When I woke up, he hold me the good news is I only had one polyp. The bad news was he didn’t feel comfortable taking it out,” Nate said.
Rudloff sent a biopsy in for testing. Four days later, Nate found out he had cancer in his sigmoid colon. It was a tough day for the always bubbly Nate and Darcy Metschke, the happy couple who both teach at Neligh-Oakdale. There were tears. There were questions. But there was also faith.
“We’ve had to do a lot of trusting with God’s plan because we can’t always figure out what God’s plan is on this path,” Darcy said. “So we do a lot of trusting, and so far, it’s all worked out.”
While the Metschkes kept their news close to the vest, a handful of people knew what was going on. Nate said “AMH was a rock star” as Heather Dawson set up more appointments in Omaha, even coming in on her day off to schedule appointments for me. His brother, Kent, helped connect him with two great surgeons.
On Feb. 6, Nate had another colonoscopy and biopsy confirming how to proceed, and on Feb. 22, he had colon and rectal surgery to remove the cancer.
And sometime in between, the gift of a third child was blessed upon them. Ansley joined Madison, 8, and Benson, 5.
While it was “interesting” timing, Darcy admitted it worked out. Darcy is in her first year teaching fourth grade at Neligh-Oakdale, having just moved to the district from teaching the same grade at Clearwater-Orchard.
“I stressed so much with the timing of this,” Darcy said. “But looking back, it all happened like it was supposed to. If I’d not have had Ansley, I wouldn’t have been able to be home to help him through this.”
The support from their family, school and community has left them overwhelmed. Calls, texts, private messages, cards, a meal train and more have kept their spirits high.
“Everyone has been so wonderful to us. We have more offers than we can take and people keep calling, emailing and texting. We’ve been blessed in so many ways,” she said.
The Next Step
Nate has yet to meet with his oncologist, but chemotherapy is on the horizon. The cancer slightly penetrated the fatty tissue of the sigmoid colon, with one small tumor in a lymph channel.
The channel is before the lymph nodes, meaning it was good news. While it wasn’t the great news Nate was hoping for, he remains positive and maintained his signature humor through it all.
“I know I’m not ready to retire right now because the daytime TV is pretty bad,” he said with a straight face before breaking into a sheepish grin. "I’m not supposed to lift more than 10 pounds for the next 4 weeks, and it really hurts to laugh, cough, and sneeze, and I’m really missing my students at school. Teaching is who I am to the core of my being, I know, even though it’s hard, that I can’t go back to work too soon."
Darcy admitted she doesn’t have a lot of advice for wives who think there may be something wrong because even she couldn’t force Nate to go to the doctor.
“You have to be supportive and encourage, but you can’t be too pushy either. You have to lovingly encourage,” she said. “We both knew something was wrong, but you can’t force your husband to go to the doctor.”
After all, he’s already planning a return to his students on Monday, March 6.
“Getting back to school with the kids and the people I work with is going to be a real boost. I’m really missing them,” Nate said.
Between the musical production with Pat Miller, NVC band clinic, Class C All-State Band, Pierce Honor Band, two concerts in April, district music contest and the fifth- and sixth-grade honor band, March and April will be busy for Nate.
And that means he’ll run across more people to encourage to be screened.
“If there is anyone out there that has any blood in their stool, make an appointment tomorrow,” he said. “Just go in and get it done, early detection is the key.”