Sweet Success

Patient’s Best Friend Honors Mercy Health Surgical Oncologist

More than two years after being diagnosed with and treated for pancreatic cancer at Mercy Health Lacks Cancer Center, Craig Bergman is thriving. In December 2015, Surgical Oncologist Jill Onesti, MD, removed Bergman’s gall bladder and duodenum, and parts of his pancreas and intestine in a surgery called the Whipple procedure.

When Craig was first diagnosed, it rattled everyone’s world. Cancer also affected Bergman’s best friend, Mark Datema, who faithfully ran the gauntlet with his friend.

“He’s been my super great friend for more than 20 years,” said Bergman. “Mark’s been on this journey with me since day one. If my wife Laura wasn’t in the room, he was in the room. Mark spent nights in the hospital and was there during surgery days and throughout chemo and radiation.”

Datema was fortunate to work for a family business, Grand Rapids Cheesecake Company, that gave him the flexibility to be there for his friend. “Our wives and families are also very close. I tried to help Craig and Laura the best I could,” Datema shared.

When post-surgical complications arose, neither Dr. Onesti nor Craig ever gave up. Datema said, “Craig is a fighter, and she wasn’t going to quit, either. And they both could have given up.”

Laura Bergman recalls that frightening time when an infection threatened her husband’s recovery. “Dr. Onesti said she was going to figure it out. She said, ‘I’m going to pray, and I will speak with doctors in other hospitals, and we will find a way to make you healthy again.’ We can’t thank Dr. Onesti enough.”

In 2013, Datema began raising honey bees and was looking for a name for his business. “Watching the way she cared for Craig, I asked Dr. Onesti if I could name my business Onesti Honey, to honor her. I just wanted to thank her, and she gave her permission.”

Since then, people from Mercy Health have visited Grand Rapids Cheesecake Company stores and recognized the surgeon’s name on the honey products.

“I just play dumb when they mention Dr. Onesti,” Datema said, “and then I share with customers the story about my friend and his wonderful surgeon. I love the name because it also has the word ‘nest’ in it. And some people pronounce it as ‘honesty,’ which is also a reflection of who Dr. Onesti is.”

Bergman’s cancer journey has inspired Datema on many levels, including conversations about faith and religion.

“I spent a lot of time on my knees praying for Craig,” Datema recalled. “In the end, there is a reason why things happen, and Craig said he could never have gotten through it without his faith and the prayers of others. If feel the same way.”

While Bergman’s disease has brought him closer to his family and friends, it has also changed his outlook on life. He lives his life as one of the 20 percent of pancreatic cancer patients whose disease won’t return.

A naturally positive person, Bergman has recovered physically, allowing him to check off several items on his bucket list, such as waterskiing, teaching his daughters how to snow ski, and returning to work. These days he works part-time as a lead quality control, safety coordinator and lean manager on a multimillion dollar construction project.

“Before cancer  I took my health for granted. Now I’m more grounded, and I’ve learned to realign my priorities. I have a second chance, and I don’t want to mess it up.”

Laura describes her husband this way: “Craig is cancer-free. He is doing great and is stronger than ever. Sometimes I feel he is a walking miracle. We had a diagnosis and a cure…Mercy Health is an awesome place.”

For the Bergman and Datema families, life is sweet.

Read Craig Bergman’s original story.