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Nash Music Teacher Recovering From Surgery To Remove Tumor

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Since being diagnosed with neck cancer on Dec. 27, 2001, Mike Lancaster, the popular band director at Southern Nash High School, has been through chemotherapy and radiation treatments, only to find out he needed surgery -- an operation that could end his career as a musician.

As they have for five months, the Lancaster family allowed WRAL to follow the progress in their battle to beat cancer.

On Monday, June 10, Lancaster went to UNC Hospitals, ready for surgery. Doctors needed to remove any cancer that survived eight weeks of radiation and chemotherapy.

Lancaster and his wife, Pam, were exhausted. The couple spent the weekend in New York City with their band students.

"They had the taxi experience, subway and the bus to the Bronx Zoo," Lancaster said.

The couple was in good spirits, but they were anxious. The family said a prayer before Lancaster walked into the operating room.

With Lancaster under anesthesia, the surgical team got started. The lines drawn on his neck showed the complexity of the surgery.

"This is really the best shot for getting the tumor," said Dr. Dell Yarbrough.

Yarbrough removed a mass around the lymph nodes in Lancaster's neck. He worked to get any suspicious tissue, but made every attempt to spare the nerves and muscles to avoid permanent damage.

The surgery took 4 1/2 hours.

In the recovery room, doctors told Lancaster they got what they needed without any nerve damage.

"Nothing else matters to me. I was happy, very happy," Lancaster said.

"When I first saw him, he was raising his arm, saying 'Look! I can move my arm. I can move my arm,'" Pam said.

"The scar doesn't matter any more," Lancaster said.

However, the size of the scar did matter to Pam.

"Even though they had explained to me what it was going to look like, I was not prepared when I saw it," she said.

On the drive back to Wilson, Pam said she broke down and cried. She said the emotional release helped her put things in perspective.

"When I came back to the hospital, I looked at him and the scar and I saw it a whole new way. I just felt like, 'We still have him,'" she said.

Lancaster said he is sore, but is not feeling much pain.

He said he is ready to put this all behind him.

"Let's get back to everyday stuff. Let me want to eat a hamburger. Let me want to eat. I'm ready for that," Lancaster said.

The Lancasters said their lives are changed forever; they have been shaken by cancer, but they are stronger because of their experience.

"You can let it break you and tear you apart or it can make you stronger," Pam said.

The family will need that strength, because their struggle is not over.

The pathology report shows that some suspicious tissue removed during surgery was cancerous. Doctors said what was found was microscopic, but Lancaster will need to be monitored every few weeks to see if anything is growing.

Last month, Lancaster celebrated his 50th birthday. He said he always dreamed of buying a Harley-Davidson motorcycle to celebrate the occasion.

To his surprise, his students collected enough money for a down payment, and Lancaster now has the motorcycle of his dreams.

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