Nick Winkler (left) is pictured here with his family.

At the age of just 33, Nick Winkler’s life took an unexpected turn. In late 2023, he received a cancer diagnosis, throwing him into a battle he never imagined facing at such a young age. 

Reflecting on the series of events leading up to his diagnosis, Winkler revisits his life just a year prior. When he began experiencing symptoms, he initially brushed them off as muscle pain from his disc golf hobby. Despite feeling the impact on his daily life, he resisted seeking medical attention. 

“I’m not one to go to doctors. I toughed it out, hoping it would go away, but it never did,” he said. 

As weeks and months passed, the discomfort eventually escalated to a point where a visit to the doctor became unavoidable. He drove from his house in Hancock County, IL, to Quincy Medical Group (QMG) and QMG Now Urgent Care in Quincy, which led to a referral to a specialist. 

Upon further evaluation by Dr. Todd Petty, QMG General Surgeon, the reality of his condition unfolded. Winkler feared he was facing something much more serious than he expected. Following a colonoscopy performed by Dr. Kartikeya Tripathi, QMG Gastroenterologist, he was diagnosed with rectal cancer. 

“I was kind of resigned to it at that point,” Winkler admitted. “It didn’t come as a huge shock because I knew we were looking at something serious, but I wasn’t sure what was ahead.” 

The next steps began quickly. Within about a week, he underwent a battery of tests including MRI, CT, and PET scans, which resulted in a treatment plan beginning with radiation therapy spanning over 28 days. On March 11, 2024, he completed the last session of this therapy. 

Despite encountering some side effects, Winkler said the comfort and support he received made the experience a positive one. His care team at the QMG Cancer Institute includes Dr. Daniel Ferraro, Radiation Oncologist; Dr. M. Amjad Ali, Medical Oncologist/Hematologist; and Nurse Practitioner Angela Duncan 

“Since radiation, I’ve been feeling much better. Looking back just a year ago, I felt terrible. Now, while I’m not perfect by any means, I’m in a better place than before. I’m holding on to that and reminding myself things keep getting better,” he said. 

Admittedly, over the past few months, Winkler has had more medical appointments than he has in the last two decades. The thing he avoided the most has provided him with support during a time he needed it most. 

“I’ve been to all sorts of hospitals for other people over the years, but never for myself. Everyone at QMG has been amazing and made me feel comfortable. They said, ‘We want everything for you to be okay. You are important first,’” he shared. 

As he prepares for the next phase of treatment, which involves triple-dose chemotherapy, Winkler admits to feeling apprehensive. However, he remains optimistic, drawing strength from the progress he has already made and the team standing by him at QMG. 

“I’ve heard the horror stories of chemotherapy, so naturally, I’m nervous. However, everything has gone well for me so far. So, my attitude is that everything is going to continue to go well and, if not, I know I’m going to get through it and then I can put this all behind me,” he said. 

From this journey, Winkler has learned the importance of prioritizing one’s health and encourages others not to delay seeking medical attention and undergoing necessary health screenings, particularly colonoscopies. 

“Don’t let fear get in the way. A colonoscopy is not nearly as scary as they make them out to be,” he said. “Just go get a colonoscopy. Just do it. It’s a day and a half of work to make sure that you’re not going to have to go through something like this.” 

Despite the challenges that have come with his cancer diagnosis, Winkler remains hopeful for the future, focusing on the progress achieved and finding moments of joy amidst adversity. 

“I’m looking forward to this year a lot more than last year. I’m not dreading the next steps just because the QMG has been so great, supporting me the whole way,” he said. 

For more information on the Gastroenterology team and services, click here. To schedule a screening, call our team at (217) 222-6550, ext. 3636.