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Mike Greene, 70, has been working in construction since he was 20 years old. As an industry veteran with his own North Carolina-based business since 1972, he has a practical approach towards problem solving.

Mike Greene on the way home after his initial surgery in 2020. He was released on the Greene’s anniversary – May 6th.

“I usually don’t fix anything that’s not broken,” Mike said.

This proved a challenging philosophy to overcome when Mike was diagnosed with clear cell renal cell carcinoma (RCC) in 2020. A CT scan prompted by high blood sugar and elevated liver enzymes tipped off his doctors to the mass on his right kidney and Mike swiftly had a nephrectomy at Duke University Hospital to remove it. When the cancer returned as a few lung nodules in 2021, Mike started pembrolizumab/lenvatinib combination therapy, on which he remained until recently. But through it all, he’s been feeling fine.

“They keep saying I’m sick, but I don’t feel sick,” Mike said. “I guess I’m too dumb to realize what’s happening, or I just don’t admit I’m sick. But that just goes back to not feeling sick.”

“As you can tell, he’s pretty much a jokester,” said Jan Greene, 69, Mike’s wife of 50 years. “The doctors and nurses have a good time with him and say he’s a unique patient.”

Despite feeling relatively healthy, Mike both wanted and got swift action. The time from scans to surgery was barely a month. The speed was a shock but so was the process. Because it was relatively early in the Covid-19 pandemic, no one could be with him at the hospital.

“He told me, once he got to his hospital room, he almost turned around and came back because it felt like he was going to prison,” Jan said. She stayed across the road in a hotel and Mike called her after he woke from surgery to say he was ok. The doctor also called her every day from Mike’s room when he went to check on him.

“I think the communication is key in how well he has done from the very beginning… It’s important not to be afraid to ask questions.”

The Mike and Jan attributed a lot of their positive experiences through Mike’s cancer treatment to good communication from and between his care teams.

“The doctors were communicating not just with us but with each other,” Jan said. From his primary care physician to his surgeon, to the nurse practitioner, “I think the communication is key in how well he has done from the very beginning… It’s important not to be afraid to ask questions.”

The Greenes were particularly touched by the above-and-beyond care from Mike’s primary care physician. Mike was running a fever after surgery and his doctor and the doctor’s wife drove 45 minutes to give him injections on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday – Mother’s Day – before Mike went back to the hospital for his checkup on Monday.

“I teared up when I found out,” Mike said.

Care like that, and support from his family – two sons and nine grandchildren – as well as the importance of his faith helped Mike keep his spirits up through his journey. Even when he couldn’t have family with him in the hospital when the initial 12 hour surgery was done God’s presence gave him peace. He drew comfort from his many friends, family and church family who cared and were praying for him.

Jan also pointed out that positivity is one of Mike’s innate characteristics.

“He’s had a positive attitude from day one,” she said. “The doctors say a positive attitude goes a long way and I think it has, too.”

So has Mike’s work, which he returned to soon after surgery and even through treatment. He now runs his construction business with the help of his 25-year-old grandson

“I don’t think Mike will ever retire. He’s too much of a go-getter,” Jan said.

“I’ve done this so long, it’s hard to stand back and not put hands on,” Mike said, which seemed to apply to his cancer journey as well, despite his professional inclination to leave unbroken things alone.

“Everybody’s different – there’s always hope. I’ve lived long enough for medical advancements to work,” Mike said. “I listen to mechanics and doctors. I’ve learned if that’s the expert, I should listen.”

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