TWIN FALLS — The day Jody Jeske was told he had stage 4 cancer of the tongue, throat and lymph nodes, he told his partner Drago — a Belgian Malinois — to “find the cancer.”
The dog, trained to sniff out narcotics, put his nose on Jeske’s nostril, moved it down Jeske’s face to the left side of his neck and pushed against the lump.
The dog, bred in Germany for the sole purpose of finding bad guys, then became a vital part of Jeske’s treatment and recovery, staying with him in the spare bedroom when Jeske was unable to sleep, and giving him emotional support.
But Drago wasn’t the only source of support for the officer with the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office. Jeske also received financial help from St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute Cancer Patient Emergency Fund, which helped pay for feeding through a tube in his stomach.
“That costs $400 a month and, when you’re not working, you wonder: How can I afford this? My insurance didn’t cover my nutrition,” Jeske said.
The Cancer Patient Emergency Fund receives part of its funding through a program called No Shave November. And a grateful Jeske, along with his fellow officers in the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office, and police departments in Twin Falls, Buhl, Filer, Jerome and Kimberly, will be taking part in it as a show of support for Jeske and for others who need the help.
A unique way to grow cancer awareness, No Shave November is a national month-long campaign launched by a web-based, nonprofit organization. It revolves around a month-long journey during which participants forgo shaving and grooming to evoke conversations about cancer and raise funds for cancer prevention, research and education.
They can grow a beard, cultivate a mustache or even let those legs go natural, all the time donating the money they would typically spend on haircuts and other grooming to an organization dealing with cancer.
The Jerome Police Department and Twin Falls Police Department are staging a friendly competition to see who can raise the most money for MSTI’s Cancer Patient Emergency Fund.
And between 50 and 60 of the 77 sworn officers with the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office are expected to take part, said Detective J.R. Paredez, who is helping to organize the effort. Each will donate $30 to the local fund. Some officers who prefer to remain clean shaven have indicated they will make donations, as well.
“We’ll be doing it for both November and December,” he said. “Normally, we’re required to shave before every shift so this is a two months out of the year we don’t have to. I enjoy it because I don’t like having to shave every day. But, it’s also given me a better understanding of what the money goes to.”
Last year $14,000 was raised for the Cancer Patient Emergency Fund. The fund the money went to helped 180 patients with medications, lodging, utilities, medical devices, groceries and transportation costs, said Michelle Bartlome, spokeswoman at St. Luke’s Magic Valley.
“We want not only to raise funds for people fighting cancer but also awareness,” police officer JP O’Donnell said. “Participating in this is something we’re pretty proud of.”
In addition to collecting donations from not shaving, MSTI is selling raffle tickets from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 17 and Dec. 1 in the hospital cafeteria of st. Luke’s Magic Valley. The hospital will hold a beard contest at 1:30 on Dec. 1 in the lobby of St. Luke’s MSTI and will draw the raffle winners at that time.
Raffle prizes include a jersey worn in a Boise State football game and a helmet signed by coach Brian Harsin, a golf package for the Jerome golf Course, a Sun Valley getaway that includes a round of golf for two, summer ice show tickets and ski passes, and a Washington Pawn Ruger Single Six revolver.
Tickets for the gun raffle are $10 each and tickets for the Sun Valley package are $20 each. Tickets for other items are one for $5 or five for $20.
Already, Brandi Keene of Brandi’s Barber Shop in downtown Twin Falls has helped out by giving No Shave November participants a clean shave, complete with hot towels, hot lather and even a facial massage, in the two days leading up to November. Those who took advantage donated the money they would have paid for the shave to the Cancer Patient Emergency Fund.
Jeske, a canine handler for the sheriff’s office, experienced painful earaches in his left ear for a year but doctors thought it was TMJ, a disorder that can cause pain in the jaw joint and in the muscles that control jaw movement.
When he told his dentist that it had moved to his right ear, and that his tongue was feeling weird, his dentist began probing around his mouth underneath his tongue.
“I felt him going back and forth over one spot and thought, ‘Oh, oh, he’s found something,’ ” he recalled.
One biopsy and PET scan later, Jeske found himself embarking on three rounds of chemotherapy and 30 radiation treatments, as removing the cancerous lump surgically would have meant losing his tongue.
A year later, his scans show no evidence of cancer. But he is dealing with some side effects from his treatment. He has “horrible dry mouth” from radiation, which he says he may never get rid of. His speech has been affected because the left side of his tongue is paralyzed. And, while he is no longer using a food tube, eating is difficult because some of his teeth had to be extracted.
He is too weak to return to the regimen required of a police officer. And, he cannot get the hydration or the nutrition that would be necessary to work with a dog in the field.
But, while he can’t grow a full-on beard because of his treatment, he is nurturing a goatee so he can join others in No Shave November.
“I can’t believe the amount of support I received from the emergency fund and from my fellow police officers during my treatment,” he said. “And there are a lot of people who are going to MSTI in Twin Falls who are traveling from places like Hailey, Sun Valley and Burley, so the emergency fund is able to provide funds to help them with gas and hotel expenses.”