SHERBURN - When the Steeles had their family portrait taken this past summer, there was a fear lurking in the back of Tracy Steele's mind.
"They were taken a week before he had the surgery," she said of her husband, Wade, 40, who is now in hospice care for pancreatic cancer.
Wade was diagnosed on Aug. 3.
TOGETHER?— Wade Steele is pictured with his family shortly after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August. With him are his wife Tracy, and daughters Jenna, 13; Lexie, 12; and Marah, 7.
"He had been trying to control his diabetes, and there were some test results that were off," Tracy explained. "They sent him to Rochester, and it was confirmed he had pancreatic cancer."
At that time, the cancer was in Stage 2B, meaning there was a chance Wade could still be saved.
"Since it's still curable at that point, they were able to do what they call a Whipple surgery," Tracy said.
The procedure removes the head of the pancreas, where most tumors occur. But because the pancreas is so integrated with other organs, the surgeon must remove part of the small intestine, the gallbladder and the end of a common bile duct, then reconnect those organs to the remaining part of the pancreas.
Following six weeks of recovery from the surgery, Wade went into 12 weeks of chemotherapy and radiation.
"He became jaundiced," Tracy said. "His bile duct became blocked with scar tissue, so they had to put in a stent."
Wade also began filling up with fluid, which was drained several times and tested. He became malnourished with each draining. On what was Wade's last day of radiation, the fluid tested positive for cancer.
"It had spread to his lymph nodes, and it was considered Stage 4," Tracy said. "Any time pancreatic cancer spreads it goes to Stage 4."
The problems continued.
Wade was hospitalized twice, and suffered an infection from some of his medication.
"His body became too weak to undergo any more chemo," Tracy said.
The one bright side for the Steeles is the community support.
"They've been outstanding," Steele said. "People call wanting to help. They've brought snacks; they've helped with the children. The churches have been wonderful. Pastor Steve Wilson has come by almost every single day. I also can't say enough about all the doctors and nurses in Rochester, at the Smart Clinic, the chemo center in Fairmont and the Andreas Cancer Center in Mankato. A lot of people, when this happens, get mad at their doctors, but we have been calling them our A team."
The couple's respective work places - Wade at Pure Fishing in Spirit Lake and Tracy at Shopko in Fairmont - also have been supportive, as Tracy now cares for Wade full time.
A benefit to help the family with medical bills is set for 4:30-7 p.m. April 20 at Martin County West High School in Sherburn. There will be a silent auction and a meal will be available for a donation.
All proceeds will go to the family, with supplemental funds provided by Thrivent Financial.
Donations also can be made to US Bank, to the Wade Steele benefit.