Sometimes, going to the doctor for the wrong reason can turn out to be the right decision.

For Terry Beck, 60, of Ashley, Michigan, the whole series of events started on Feb. 28, 2018, when he went to visit a friend in a nursing home.

There had been an outbreak of scabies in the facility that same day and Beck soon came down with the hallmark itching symptoms. He saw it as the likely outcome of his nursing home visit.

The retired General Motors worker would soon come to learn the scabies outbreak and his bout of itching were merely a coincidence, nothing more.

But in seeking treatment for what he initially suspected had been scabies, he launched a medical journey that would lead to a much more severe diagnosis: cancer.

Robotic assist

Beck’s doctor determined he wasn’t suffering from scabies, but possibly from toxins in his system.

The path to an accurate diagnosis did not come overnight. He underwent treatment but his symptoms only worsened.

“I lost a lot of weight,” Beck recalled. “I wasn’t eating or sleeping.”

On March 23, at the urging of his wife and children, Beck went to the emergency room at Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, where doctors determined the cause.

A tumor blocking the bile and pancreatic ducts had been creating the toxins that irritated Beck’s body, said Andrea Wolf, MD, a Spectrum Health surgeon.

Dr. Wolf used the relatively new robotic Whipple procedure to remove the tumor.

The benefits of using a robot to do the surgery include less pain, less invasiveness and less blood loss, the doctor said. The small incisions also mean less chance for lasting scars.

The recovery is usually a little quicker, too. The average hospital stay after the Whipple procedure is about six days, compared to seven or eight.

Spectrum Health doctors began performing the Whipple procedure about six years ago. It involves a robotic device called the da Vinci Surgical System.

Because the method is not necessarily optimal for all cancer patients, only about 10 percent of all Whipple operations are done robotically, Dr. Wolf said.

“Terry was a good candidate for the procedure,” she said. “He had a small tumor that was in an ideal position to allow for a robotic approach to the Whipple surgery. Terry also was in good health and the cancer was caught early.”

Dr. Wolf remains impressed at Beck’s recovery.

“I was amazed when I saw him just about six weeks after the surgery, walking around in the food court of the hospital like everyone else,” she said. “He did not appear to be someone who had just had major surgery.”

While Beck had a hard time dealing with the cancer diagnosis, he had an optimal outcome from surgery and his diagnosis indicates he’ll have a favorable response to continuing treatment, Dr. Wolf said.

Beck completed his chemotherapy in early November. On his way out of his last chemotherapy treatment, he rang the bell that signaled the milestone. Tears sprang to his eyes.

Family ties

A likely advantage for Beck—and one that is hard to quantify—is the support from his family, Dr. Wolf said.

“The family was always there and was always optimistic,” Dr. Wolf said. “So in his low times, the family was helping keep his spirits up and helping him recover.”

Beck remains proud of his family and grateful for their close bond.

His family’s constant vigilance during the long surgery is a testament to their ties.

“We had all of our kids with us,” said Beck’s wife, Sherri, noting that one of their grandchildren had been there, too, for the 10- to 12-hour ordeal.

Beck and his wife of 35 years have two daughters, Katie and Dr. John Fox, of Midland, and Stephanie and Klinton Ackels, of Ashley, and two sons, Brandon Beck, of Flint, and Paul Beck, also of Ashley. Fox has a daughter, Sylvia, and Ackels has a son, Forrest.

“We have a house in Wyoming and property on Drummond Island,” Beck said. “We have 120 acres near Crystal Falls, Michigan, where we hunt. All my kids and Sherri are hunters. We try to keep everything family-oriented.”