SHELDON—According to his dad, rural Hospers native Scott Stallmann has been obsessed with the South Asian country of Nepal for about half his life.
“Since he was 12,” Nick Stallmann said.
The now 24-year-old quit his job in January so he could spend two years teaching English in the mountainous country through the U.S. Peace Corps.
“An aunt of mine did it and it kind of became a dream; you get to see the world and do good stuff for the world while you’re at it,” Scott said.
The 2013 Sheldon High School graduate even studied Nepal and the Himalayas while he attended the University of South Dakota in Vermillion where he earned a bachelor of arts in communication studies and anthropology in May 2018.
When Scott saw a Peace Corps opening in Nepal he knew it was a sign. He applied for it, was accepted and was ready to start the next chapter of his life.
“It was literally a dream come true,” Scott said.
In December 2018, Scott noticed a bump on the side of his face that kept growing. He visited a general practitioner and followed up with an ear, nose and throat specialists.
“They took some samples and sent them off and couldn’t really get a good diagnosis on it,” Scott said.
He then self-referred himself to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.
“I got in pretty quick up there,” Scott said. “They took their samples and ran their test and all. It came back as diagnosis of Nut midline carcinoma, which is rare and aggressive.”
NUT midline carcinoma is such a rare form of cancer the first American diagnosis of the disease occurred only 20 years ago, according to a study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
“He basically had a tumor in the saliva gland on the side of his face,” said Dianna Stallmann, Scott’s mother.
“He had quit his job to spend the last month home with us before leaving for Nepal,” Nick said. “In that month’s time they found his tumor.”
“Which grew like crazy,” Scott added.
Mayo Clinic surgeons removed Scott’s tumor on Jan. 28, which was about a week after his diagnosis and a month after he discovered its existence.
“It was a quick turnaround,” Scott said.
“It went from a little tumor to massive,” Nick said.
Dianna noted it was visible from the outside of Scott’s face and he added that the tumor doubled in size each week.
Following surgery, Scott started chemotherapy and radiation treatment at Mayo and those finished up just before his 24th birthday on April 4.
“My first set of scans came back clean,” Scott said. “My second set in June, they found some small — some very small — lesions in a couple of bones around my midline.”
Basically, tumors started growing in parts of Scott’s midsection, which he likes to refer to as his “trunk.”
His doctors at Mayor referred him to a clinical trial at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, one of the world’s foremost cancer research, care, education and prevention centers.
“They didn’t know what else to do; the disease was very unfamiliar to them even at Mayo Clinic because it’s so rare,” Scott said.
Each family member has seen varying numbers, but Nick, who did not cite Wikipedia, read there are less than 200 people worldwide battling the same form of cancer his son is.
Scott was accepted into the trial and three times a month either he and at least one of his parents fly to Houston for treatment.
Fortunately for them, Nick has a sister who lives in the city so they have been able to save money by staying with her.
“Now for the good part: The trial is working, which is really cool,” Scott said. “One tumor shrank by about half its size, one disappeared completely and the rest of them have not grown.”
“So it appears this drug is working,” Dianna said.
“When they sent us down, they said, ‘Some people are responding to it,’ but they weren’t saying this is going to cure you,’” Scott said.
While it is still early, the Stallmanns are hopeful. Dianna noted Scott is in his fourth treatment cycle and he will have new scans conducted in Houston on Oct. 9-10 to see if the drug is still helping.
Despite dealing with all of this and seeing his dream of seeing Nepal being delayed, Scott remains positive.
“He’s been optimistic and strong and that helps us stay that way,” Dianna said. “He’s just moving ahead and that’s all you can do.”
As he is undergoing treatment, Scott has split his time between his parents’ home in rural Sheldon and his place in Vermillion.
Dianna took a leave from her job as an English as a second language teacher for Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon. Nick, who also farms, was granted leave from his job at Rosenboom Machine and Tool in Sheldon.
With the travel expenses, time off from work and Scott’s student loans, finances are tight. Friends and family members of the Stallmanns are trying to help with that by hosting at a benefit at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Sheldon.
The benefit dinner is 5-7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 7, at the church, 1425 Pleasant Court in Sheldon. It is a freewill offering and guests will be served a pork loin sandwich, baked beans, coleslaw and dessert.
“It really is a blessing how much support we have,” Scott said. “I’ve got a great support network from family, which is large, to community, which is enthusiastic and friends and all that.”
“We just have countless people telling us they are praying for our family and for Scott,” Dianna said. “Every single prayer is appreciated.”