Cancer is a particularly nasty beast, growing without cessation and overtaking one’s freedom.

If there is a silver lining to the disease, it is the way it brings families, friends and communities together. As the mantra goes, no one fights cancer alone.

Joe Gilk, Albany native, was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, and was recently given funds which were raised by the Albany High School wrestling team at their golf scramble fundraiser. 

“When they asked me if I would be the recipient I couldn’t even reply,” Gilk said. “I didn’t know what to say. It was overwhelming.” 

Gilk’s story with cancer is unique; the disease started as a nuisance.

On a typical Sunday afternoon, Joe Gilk can be found snoozing on the couch, snoring.

“I could shake the pictures off my neighbors’ walls in their house,” Gilk said. 

His wife, Sandy, is a nurse and was concerned and suggested he participate in a sleep study. Joe and Sandy have two children, Kaylee, 22, and Jacob, 19. 

Gilk complied and was told he had sleep apnea and needed a CPAP machine. 

“I wanted to talk over the results with my wife and general practitioner, so I brought everything home and we made a doctor appointment,” Gilk said. 

After a consultation with his doctor, Gilk scheduled a surgery for tonsil and adenoid removal and a septoplasty. 

“[My doctor] had always thought I had large tonsils, and thought this could help,” Gilk said. “I went to an ENT specialist in St. Cloud and they agreed removal was a good choice.” 

After his surgery, Gilk went home feeling and sleeping better. 

“We went on with life,” he said.

Kaylee had recently graduated Albany High School and the family planned a celebration. 

“We were setting up for the party when I got a call to come in and see the ENT right away,” Gilk said. “So, that afternoon I went there and they told me the stuff they took out had tested positive for cancer.” 

It was chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), a type of cancer where the bone marrow makes too many white blood cells. Joe and Sandy immediately made an appointment at Coborn’s Cancer Center in St. Cloud. 

“I started treatment and everything went smoothly,” Gilk said. “I was very fortunate to have no side effects. I didn’t lose my hair or have any vomiting or anything.” 

He was on chemo treatment for eight weeks and went into remission for 17 months. Last winter, he was having an elective procedure on his neck, when the doctors found more enlarged nodes. 

“We went back to the cancer center and it had all came back,” Gilk said. “That was tough.”

Since then, Gilk has not received any treatments. 

“We started working with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester,” he said. “My case is unique because this type of cancer usually doesn’t affect people like me.” 

The CLL is more commonly found in white males over the age of 70. In Rochester, a team of doctors are studying Gilk’s unique case and want it to get worse before they begin experimental treatments. 

“Every three months I have blood work done, but other than that, life is normal,” he said. “I have no side effects from the cancer, and I still go to work every day – half an hour early.” 

Gilk works for the state department of transportation. While going through it all – the treatment, testing and trips to the doctor’s office – Gilk was never really alone in his battle and he continues to receive overwhelming support from his family, friends and community members.

“I’m so grateful for the support of the community and the team,” he said. “And, especially my family. It’s really true – no one fights alone.”