Not even blood cancer can slow down this 85-year-old world traveler

May 10, 2021
Wil Doak stands in a park with his arm around his wife Pat
While undergoing treatment for multiple myeloma, Wil Doak couldn't wait to get back to traveling the world with Pat, his wife of 60 years. Photo by Marquel Coaxum

Retired Navy veteran Wil Doak, 85, has always made it a priority to get an annual wellness check with his primary care provider at MUSC Health. This year, that commitment to his health paid off.

After having routine bloodwork done in late October of 2020, he received a call Friday morning from his doctor, Scott Lloyd, M.D., Ph.D., who noticed something unusual with his test results. Lloyd was able to set Doak up with an appointment with hematologist oncologist Hamza Hashmi, M.D., at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center for 8 a.m. the following Monday.

Doak said, “Dr. Hashmi took one look at my lab results and said, ‘You have blood cancer, and you’re about to have kidney failure.’ Everything happened fast, so it must have been serious.”

Doak was diagnosed with stage 3 multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that affects a type of white blood cell known as a plasma cell that helps to fight off infections in the body. The disease causes cancerous plasma cells to multiply and push out healthy blood cells, which can cause damage to the kidneys, bones and immune system.

Doak, who had previously been diagnosed with two types of skin cancer and prostate cancer, was more worried at the thought of potentially needing kidney dialysis than he was about facing cancer again. He began treatment with targeted immunotherapy and chemotherapy the following week.

“The best thing you can do is keep a good attitude and not worry about what might happen in the future. Look forward to something good instead — like a cruise — and a good partner to share it with.”
— Wil Doak

“When I was with the guy who was doing my bone marrow treatment, I said to him, ‘I can’t understand why I’m just not that worried about this,’” said Doak. “He said to me, ‘In South Carolina, the average male lives to be about 78. You are 85.’ That’s the only way I’ve looked at it since.”

His treatment began working almost immediately, and within two weeks, Doak’s kidneys were nearly back to normal. In February, he transitioned from receiving his immunotherapy weekly to once every other week. If his progress continues the way it is now, he’ll only receive treatment once per month beginning in April.

He’s thankful for the care he has received from his multidisciplinary team at MUSC and Hollings.

“The service has been excellent. All the nurses are good. They come in and brief you on what’s going to happen. If you have any questions, they get the answers,” said Doak, who likes the convenience of using his MyChart patient portal account to stay in contact with his care team. “After I meet with the doctor, I meet with a pharmacist, and he goes over all the medicines I’m expected to take. They also watch to make sure I don’t run out of pills.”

Doak also praised Lloyd for his knowledge in interpreting his blood test results and for seeking the opinion of a cancer expert to get the answers he needed quickly.

“The fact that I had a doctor who recognized something was wrong and who knew where to go to get an answer is important,” said Doak, who called Lloyd to thank him following his diagnosis. “I was able to meet with Dr. Hashmi so quickly because Dr. Lloyd had made time to go over my lab results.”

Wisdom on marriage, travel and preventive care

A lifelong traveler, Doak’s biggest concern as he continues treatment is having enough time between appointments to take a cruise with his wife, Pat. The couple, married 60 years, has been to every continent except Antarctica, and next on their list is a cruise around Iceland.

When asked about their favorite place they’ve ever been, their answer is simply, “We haven’t been there yet.”

close up of Wil and Pat Doak's hands interlocked with Pat's wedding ring showing 
After 60 years of marriage, Wil and Pat Doak are still excited to go on their next great travel adventure together. Photo by Marquel Coaxum

The Navy pilot met his future wife while he was stationed on Midway Island in the central Pacific Ocean during the Cold War, flying airplanes with radar in search of early warnings of a potential Soviet nuclear strike. Pat was assigned by the Department of Defense to be a schoolteacher at the base.

“We met in August, got engaged in October and were married in December,” said Doak. “Our anniversary is Dec. 26, and her birthday is Dec. 22, and one of the first things I was told was, ‘You will not buy me one gift to cover my birthday, Christmas and our anniversary.’ So, I buy three gifts, but then I’m done.”

When he received his diagnosis, he was thankful to have Pat by his side — even after they’d spent so much time isolated together at home due to the pandemic.

“My wife has been very supportive. I can tell when it’s getting to her because she gets a little grumpy once in a while,” he said, turning to throw a smirk to Pat. “But not very often.”

When it comes to marriage, he has three pieces of advice:

  • The two words every husband should know are “Yes, dear.”
  • Make sure you have two TVs if you don’t have interest in the same shows (Doak will watch “Golden Girls,” but he draws the line when it comes to “The Bachelor”).
  • Choose a good partner, and everything will be fine.

Doak hopes to use his cancer journey to remind others of the importance of regular preventive care, especially those who are older. When he was diagnosed, he sent a message to the more than 200 people he volunteered with at Charleston’s Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, encouraging them to make their annual wellness check appointments.

For others who have been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, he encourages them to focus on the positives.

“Multiple myeloma is a type of cancer that doctors believe they can take care of now. The best thing you can do is keep a good attitude and not worry about what might happen in the future,” Doak said. “Look forward to something good instead — like a cruise — and a good partner to share it with.”