|By Tara Mathews|
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Two years ago, Lester Prairie’s Herb Hoen was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a type of cancer that starts in plasma and bone marrow.
“The Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital determined that my illness is a result of Agent Orange,” Herb commented.
There is no test to prove whether Agent Orange is the cause, but the VA has determined that anyone who served in Vietnam 1964-75, and has been diagnosed with certain types of diseases, were exposed to Agent Orange, and the disease is a result of that exposure, according to Herb.
Herb was enlisted in the Army, and served in Vietnam from 1965-67.
None of Herb’s friends who were in Vietnam during the same time period have been diagnosed with Agent Orange-related diseases or illnesses, he said.
“One guy passed away five or six years ago, and one passed away 20 years ago, but I have no idea from what,” he stated.
More than two years ago, Herb discovered the diagnosis when he went to a VA doctor for his regular yearly physical and lab work.
His blood test results showed an increase in his protein level, and he was told to check with his regular doctor.
Following more tests, Herb was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a type of cancer.
He began an injection form of chemotherapy January 2013, called Velcade, which didn’t go well, he said.
The injection caused an infection in Herb’s colon and large intestine, causing him to not feel well and lose his appetite for a few days, and eventually collapse.
Jan. 19, 2013, Herb had surgery to remove his colon and large intestine.
“The doctors told me I had a 20- to 50-percent chance of survival that day,” he noted.
After more than two weeks in Abbott Northwestern Hospital, Herb was released to Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul, where he began physical therapy.
“I couldn’t walk after I collapsed,” Herb said.
He completed three weeks of therapy at Bethesda, and then was transferred to Good Samaritan Society in Waconia, where he received therapy for five or six more weeks.
In April 2013, Herb could walk with a walker and was sent home to complete in-home occupational and physical therapy.
After a month of in-home therapy, Herb was able to go to intermittent therapy at Waconia Hospital, through mid-July 2013.
“I began to walk with a cane after a little self-therapy and exercise,” he said. “Yard work helped strengthen me.”
Herb began a pill form of chemotherapy February 2014, and since then, has been doing okay, he said.
His feet are always numb, due to damage caused by the first chemo treatment.
“My feet feel like they’re always asleep, or just about to wake up,” Herb commented. “Also, I can’t feel if my feet are cold or not.”
Herb continues to take his chemotherapy pill, and is looking into a stem cell transplant.
“I was supposed to have a stem cell transplant last year, but I had a blockage in my heart and artery,” he added.
Herb had an angiogram in September 2014, and was taking blood-thinning medication for six months after surgery, which kept him from getting the transplant.
In March, he will have completed the six months of blood thinning medication and will call to find out if he is eligible for a stem cell transplant then.
Herb is a Norwood native, but has lived in Lester Prairie for 46 years.
He married his wife, Diane, in May 1969; and they had three children, Troy, Tina, and Tricia.
Herb was a machinist at Nilfisk Advance in Plymouth for more than 43 years, before he retired April 2011.
“I began working there one week after I returned from Vietnam,” Herb said. “I was almost 66 when I retired.”
Lester Prairie Lions hosted a community breakfast benefit for Herb Feb. 1 at Lester Prairie City Hall.
Pancakes, eggs, sausage, and toast were served, with a choice of juice or coffee.
“When they called and asked me if they could host a benefit for me, I said ‘no’ at first,” Hoen commented. “But then, I ended up saying, ‘yes.’”