When Rick Dorn learned skin cancer cells had spread to his lungs, he needed care from an oncologist who specializes in his diagnosis.

He turned to medical oncologist Dr. Neil Hayes at Regional One Health Cancer Care, one of the nation’s leading experts in these diagnoses.

Thanks to the advanced treatment options Dr. Hayes can offer, Rick is back to enjoying a busy retirement filled with volunteering at his church and building furniture.

Even after retiring from the U.S. Marines and then from a second career directing medical transcription, Rick Dorn wasn’t done working.  

For the past three years, his days have been filled with household projects and volunteering to make repairs at his church and for people who can’t otherwise afford the work. It’s a fulfilling and enjoyable life, and the last thing he wanted was to put it on hold for a cancer diagnosis.  

When Rick required treatment for lung cancer in early 2023, the expertise he found with medical oncologist Dr. Neil Hayes at Regional One Health Cancer Care allowed him to continue doing the things he loves without missing a beat. 

“They caught it early, so I never felt any effects from the cancer or the treatments. Right now I’m working on remodeling a building at church,” Rick said. “I’ve had nothing but good experiences. Everything’s going well and the treatment is working – I have no complaints!” 

Rick’s cancer journey started with squamous cells on his forehead, a form of skin cancer. A dermatologist removed them, but a couple months later he noticed a lump on the side of his face. It was cancer again and had reached the lymph node, requiring surgery and radiation. 

“After that, they did a CT scan to make sure it was all gone, and they discovered squamous cells in my lungs,” Rick said. “My doctor said Dr. Hayes is one of the leading experts in treating that type of cancer, so they referred me to Regional One Health.” 

Rick was impressed as soon as he met Dr. Hayes. 

Dr. Neil Hayes said it’s rewarding to offer advanced cancer treatment options for Mid-South patients. “We’re able to offer this expertise because we have a multidisciplinary team that gives patients access to surgical, radiation and medical oncologists. That means complete care for the patient,” he said.  

“He’s very knowledgeable, professional, courteous and personable,” Rick said. “I remember him saying, ‘You’re taking this very well.’ I said, ‘What else can I do? It’s in the Lord’s hands.’”

Dr. Hayes is an expert in treating lung and head and neck tumors and a leader in the national organization that designs clinical trials for these cancers. Because of that, he has the experience and knowledge to provide advanced treatment options for his patients. 

That includes immunotherapy, a relatively new option in medical oncology that works by using the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. 

Dr. Hayes determined Rick would be a good candidate for immunotherapy. 

“Usually, skin cancer responds to localized treatment – freezing or burning the lesion, surgery, or topical chemotherapy,” Dr. Hayes said. “Occasionally, a patient will need radiation. In rare cases, the cancer comes back after radiation. That’s when medical oncology comes into play.” 

Dr. Hayes said immunotherapy is generally well-tolerated with few serious complications. Best of all, it is highly effective for many of his patients. 

In Rick’s experience, that was the case almost immediately. 

He started treatment at Regional One Health’s infusion center in June 2023, and had a CT scan after his third infusion. It showed that his tumors had already shrunk by half. 

Prior to the advent of immunotherapy, skin cancers that came back after radiation were hard to treat – in some cases leaving patients with no options. “It was a really difficult position for a patient to be in,” Dr. Hayes said. “Immunotherapy is something of a miracle for these patients.” 

Rick will continue undergoing treatment until June 2024. While he jokes about taking it easy at some point during his retirement, there’s no sign of him slowing down any time soon. 

Rick Dorn is back to a busy retirement thanks to the immunotherapy care he received from Dr. Hayes. With few side effects, he’s able to continue volunteering at his church, building furniture and more.

“At one point, I told people I was going to do repairs for prayers in the morning and then sit on my front porch in the afternoon and sip bourbon…though I know to lay off the bourbon!” he laughed.  

“But I enjoy helping folks.  Our church takes requests for home repairs, and we help the people who can’t afford repairs on their own. My church recently bought a new building, and I’m working on that. I also like building furniture – my wife shows me a picture, and I go build it. Nowadays you can go online and find videos about how to do just about anything.” 

Rick is thankful to Dr. Hayes and his team for helping him continue to enjoy a busy retirement. “Everyone has been great,” he said. “I have no complaints. They’ve doing a great job, and most importantly, the treatment is working.” 

Dr. Hayes is proud to improve access to advanced oncology care for the Mid-South, and he looks forward to continuing to expand treatment options in Memphis. That includes plans to open a clinical trial at Regional One Health to study the use of immunotherapy earlier in the treatment cycle in hopes of helping more patients avoid difficult surgeries. 

“We’re able to offer this expertise because we have a multidisciplinary team that gives patients access to surgical, radiation and medical oncologists. That means complete care for the patient,” he said.  

“Because our oncologists focus on specific diagnoses, we get a lot of experience caring for these patients. That allows us to treat complex cancers, and to serve as not just a local expert, but a regional expert for patients from all over the Mid-South.”  

Learn more at www.regionalonehealth.org/cancer-care/ or by calling 901-515-HOPE (4673).