CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — For four months, WRAL has followed a Nash County man and his family as he battles neck cancer.
Mike Lancaster, the band director at Southern Nash High School, has endured painful radiation and chemotherapy. He has a form of lymphoma that was diagnosed after doctors found a tumor on his tonsils.
Since his last treatment five weeks ago, Lancaster's life has regained some normalcy.
Standing on his conductor's stand, leading the high school band, is a victory.
"I'm beginning to feel like me again," he said.
Lancaster has regained his appetite and his strength is slowly returning. However, no matter how normal things appear, his ordeal is not over.
This week, Lancaster hoped that his oncologist in Wilson would tell him and his family that the cancer was gone. Instead, the music teacher is called to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, where a specialist breaks the news.
Doctors believe there is still some cancer in the lymph nodes.
"There's a little bit more there than I'd usually like to have left after this," said Dr. Dell Yarbrough. "I'm betting we need to do a neck dissection and get this node out of there."
"I wasn't very surprised, but I wasn't very happy, either," said Pam Lancaster, Mike's wife.
Since chemotherapy and radiation did not get all of the cancer, Lancaster needs surgery.
When the cancer was first diagnosed, some doctors suggested surgery. However, it could have affected the nerves in Lancaster's neck and the use of his arm. It is the last thing the trumpet player wants.
It is not good news, but according to Yarbrough, the surgery is Lancaster's best bet.
"I think he still has a good chance of still being cured, but he's going to have to go through some more trials and tribulations and possibly have some functional defects to get to that goal," Yarbrough said.
Lancaster hopes that surgeons can spare the nerve in his neck. Pam said they have no regrets.
"Once you make a decision and you follow that path or course, you can't have regrets or you'd be miserable your whole life," she said.
For Lancaster, the news is still sinking in.
"Emotionally, [it's a] a roller coaster. I had a good night to think about everything. [The students] made it a lot better this morning," Lancaster said. "I don't know how [the cancer] could live. How can it live through all that radiation?"
Lancaster will have the surgery and wants the doctor to do what needs to be done -- no matter what the consequences are.
"I don't want my daughter to have to come back and say 'You didn't get it, and my daddy's gone,'" Lancaster said.
With the strength the entire family has discovered in the past few months, the Lancasters said they will get through this next hurdle.
It is not the ending everyone had wished for, it is just another chapter in this remarkable man's life.
"No regrets, no disappointments, not being let down. It's just what we've got to do. It's not finished yet," Lancaster said.
Lancaster is scheduled to get another CT scan next week. Unless it has changed dramatically, doctors want to do the surgery as soon as possible.
He celebrates his 50th birthday on Friday.