Cancer survivor scales new heights
A 205-foot construction crane towered over cancer survivor Cameron Caldwell and Dr. Brian Gross as the two prepared to climb a series of ladders to reach the top.
“Yeah, I’m a little nervous. My palms are a little sweaty. But I think it shouldn’t be too bad,” Caldwell said on Friday afternoon at Asante’s Medford medical campus, which is in the midst of a flurry of construction.
Caldwell said he’s been getting advice about how to tackle the crane-climbing challenge.
“Just don’t look down. That’s what they all say,” he said.
Gross, a cardiologist with the Asante health system, won the right to climb the crane with a companion after submitting the winning bid at an Oregon Wine Experience fundraiser for the Asante Foundation. Gross thought about inviting a friend or colleague, but when he heard about Caldwell, the choice was clear.
An avid runner and basketball player, Caldwell was diagnosed with bone cancer in his senior year of high school after starting to feel pain in his leg. He endured limb-salvage surgery and 18 rounds of chemotherapy to beat the cancer.
He’s now a pre-med student at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls.
Gross said he wanted the young man to join him on the climb because Caldwell has lived through the challenge of fighting cancer and is now on a path toward a career in medicine.
“He’s going to help a lot of people. It’s pretty obvious to me,” Gross said.
The two donned hardhats, fluorescent construction vests and GoPro video cameras to record the adventure. They climbed a long series of ladders to reach the top of the crane. From their high perch, they could see the autumn colors of trees, the hills surrounding Medford, buildings and tiny people and cars far below.
They stayed high up on the 14-story crane as its operator raised construction equipment to the top of the Patient Pavilion, a six-floor medical building under construction.
The towering crane has a lifting capacity of 55,115 pounds, about the same as 300 doctors and nurses or five ambulances.
The $420 million Patient Pavilion building will allow Asante to provide more medical care to the nine-county region it serves.
After learning more about the crane and admiring the panoramic view, Caldwell and Gross made the long trip down, carefully placing their hands and feet as they descended the series of ladders.
Back on the ground, Gross said the trip wasn’t too hard because they paused to enjoy the view from platforms at the base of each ladder.
“You had a little break each time. It was like running short wind sprints, or running lines in basketball,” he said.
Caldwell said he was powered by adrenaline on the way up, but that started to peter out on the descent.
“Near the end, I was definitely starting to breathe hard,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell said he appreciated getting a different perspective of the Rogue Valley from the crane’s heights.
“It was beautiful,” he said.
With its multiple stories, Caldwell said the Patient Pavilion will give kids and adults inspiring views. He got his care at a smaller oncology unit where there wasn’t much space to walk around.
“That’s going to be awesome for them. I mean, just a little bit of happiness and brightness throughout their day,” Caldwell said.
He said cancer treatment takes so long that a medical facility becomes like a second home for patients.
Gross said patients need inspiration when they’re battling illness.
“You get sick and you need something to point towards. This place is going to be designed with all sorts of views to uplift your spirits and make you think about, ‘This is a fight worth fighting.’ It’s invigorating to look out over this valley. This is an absolutely gorgeous place to live,” he said.
Gross said it’s important for local residents to have high-quality care close to home.
“I get bored driving four-and-a-half hours to Portland. I can’t imagine doing it sick and weak and nauseated,” he said.
Floyd Harmon, executive director of the Asante Foundation, said the general contractor for the Patient Pavilion project, Andersen Construction, donated the crane-climbing experience. It was one of the many items and adventures auctioned off during the Oregon Wine Experience event that raised $1.6 million this year.
The Patient Pavilion will include new operating rooms, an expansion of Asante’s cardiovascular unit, critical care beds and a medical center devoted to health care for women and children, Harmon said.
“The last couple of years have shown us how important those critical care beds are,” he noted, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic that has strained hospital capacity.
Caldwell said being at Asante’s Medford campus brought back both good and bad memories of his cancer battle. He said the positive attitude of his oncologist, Dr. Ellen Plummer, helped him through the ordeal.
Having cancer changed his career path and made him want to help others by becoming a doctor.
“Before, I wanted to be an engineer. I wanted nothing to do with medical because it grossed me out,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell’s little brother Sage was on hand to watch the two scale the crane and come back down. Sage said he’s written a one-page book about his big brother’s fight with cancer and his path to be a doctor.
Obviously convinced Caldwell is as tough as nails after his cancer battle, Sage said his brother could have climbed 50,000 cranes stacked on top of each other.
“I bet he could have climbed higher,” Sage said.