Willie and Sherry Heindricks with their horses

Throat cancer survivor: “God led me here”

Willie Heindricks had a persistent sore throat. He was losing weight and having difficulty swallowing and over-the-counter medication didn’t seem to help. The Jerseyville resident didn’t think too much about it until he started coughing up small amounts of blood.

He scheduled an appointment with ear, nose and throat specialist Dr. Keith Bonacquisti of OSF HealthCare Medical Group. Dr. Bonacquisti performed a fiber optic exam followed by a biopsy.

Willie had throat cancer.

“At first, hearing those words scared me to death, but I turned it over to God and asked for a lot of prayer,” Willie said. “Dr. Bonacquisti warned me that while not a death sentence, it was going to be a battle.”

He met with the specialists at OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony’s Cancer Center of Excellence, radiation oncologist, Dr. James Piephoff, and medical oncologist and hematologist, Dr. Manpreet Sandhu. The team developed a personalized treatment plan to battle the cancer.

“The doctors, nurses, technicians, all the staff, were confident and compassionate. They were just wonderful,” Willie said. “God led me here.”

Willie had 32 radiation treatments and three, two-day chemotherapy treatments with a three week break between them.

As of January 2018, all his tests have come back clear.

“You have to stay positive.”

Willie turned it over to God and stayed positive and busy throughout the treatments.

“I had a lot of people praying for me and came through it better than most. I asked everyone to pray for me. I believed it could beat,” Willie said. “I was surprised how many churches had me on their prayer lists.”

Throughout the treatments, Willie was able to still eat solid food and drink Ensure®. He never needed a feeding tube.

“You have got to eat. It hurt sometimes, but I would still get some solid food down,” Willie said. “I did better than most. Some of my friends had to have feeding tubes.”

His wife, Sharon, agreed. “He didn’t get real sick. Sometimes, Willie would come home from treatment and mow the grass. He always had a positive attitude and didn’t mope around.”

Willie’s advice to anyone who receives a cancer diagnosis. “Listen to your doctors and do what they tell you to do. And when you get scared, turn it over to God.”

About Author: David Pruitt

David Pruitt is a writer for the Marketing & Communications division of OSF HealthCare. He has a bachelor’s of journalism from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and worked as a reporter before joining OSF HealthCare in 2014.

An avid golfer and fisherman, David was born and raised Alton, Illinois, which is where he currently resides with his son, James.

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Categories: Cancer, Patient Stories