By Jonesa Rodriguez - November 13, 2023
Eric and Debbie Bilow planned and saved for their early retirement. When the time finally came, the couple happily relocated from North Carolina to Florida ready to begin their new retired life. Seven days after moving, Eric received devastating news: He was diagnosed with stage 4 throat cancer.
“Hearing those words was shocking,” he said. “I was scared for myself but concerned for my wife.”
New to Florida, Eric did not know about Moffitt Cancer Center. He received treatment at a local hospital in Gainesville and was cleared. But six months later the cancer returned much more aggressively.
“Most of the doctors on my team said that there was nothing they could do anymore, and they recommended that I just go on immunotherapy and live my final 12 to 18 months in peace,” he said.
A surgeon told Eric there was a 50% chance his life could be saved through surgery, but it would alter his world.
“I thought about it overnight and contacted that surgeon the next morning to confirm that I was a gambler and wanted to go for another chance,” Eric said.
Two weeks later, that one surgery turned into three during his 18 days at that hospital. Once again, he was cancer free.
During this time, his wife and caregiver, Debbie, was also diagnosed with breast cancer.
Six months later, Eric was devastated to learn that his cancer had returned for the third time. He was told he had just a few months left.
“My surgeon said that everything had been taken out of my throat and there was nothing else to remove,” Eric said.
While he tearfully said his goodbyes to his care team, his surgeon gave him one more chance of hope. That’s when he learned about Moffitt.
“My wife, Debbie, was determined to keep pushing. She contacted Moffitt the next day and told them of my plight. An immediate appointment was set up,” Eric said.
His care team at Moffitt reviewed his medical history and came up with a plan.
“Dr. George Yang smiled at me and put his hands on my shoulder. He told me his team had a plan, it was a long shot, but I was not done and that we can do this,” Eric said.
The Luck of Red
After going through months of treatments, this time around Eric needed something that would keep his spirits high. He loves red and picked out red socks and shoes. He deemed them lucky and wore them to every appointment.
“I knew that in addition to the love and support of my family and friends along with the skills and care of all the health care professionals, I also needed some luck,” Eric said. “The lucky red shoes helped get me over the top.”
After receiving intense treatment, three months later, wearing his lucky red shoes, Eric had finally defeated cancer.
Preparing for Miles for Moffitt
Two and a half years in remission, Eric says he’s healthier than ever. Full of hope, he began doing everything that he had previously put on hold.
“I skydived, bought a new sports car, entered bicycle races, 5K running races, and even got a tattoo,” he said.
And now he and Debbie are preparing to participate in their first Miles for Moffitt presented by AutoNation, where he will be sporting his lucky pair of red socks and shoes.
He’s participating to not only celebrate life but also set an example for others.
“Be it my six grandchildren or anyone else who sees me, I want them to realize that just because my speaking ability is somewhat challenged, and I am on a permanent G-tube for the next 35 years, cancer did not slow me down in any way at all. If anything, it made me stronger,” Eric said.
As cancer survivors, the Bilows are looking forward to making long-lasting memories at this year’s event.
“Making new friends is the best memory one could hope for. I believe my wife and I will return home afterward knowing many more people. Courageous survivors that celebrate life and are proud of the strength they possess,” he said.
Join Eric and Debbie Bilow in downtown Tampa on Nov. 18 for the 2023 Miles for Moffitt. For more information or to register, visit MilesforMoffitt.com