Joe Enzweiler, a nationally acclaimed poet and former physicist, lived in rural Alaska in a log home he built by hand. He had no e-mail, television, or indoor plumbing.
This pure and elemental life sustained Joe in health. But when Joe was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the summer of 2009, he was drawn into a modern and complex world where medicine, science, and physics intertwine. He was treated at the Precision Radiotherapy Center in West Chester, Ohio, with a technology that was developed and is delivered with the help of physicists. During 33 sessions spread over a period of several weeks in 2009, a highly sophisticated linear accelerator directed intensity-modulated radiation therapy with daily image guidance to Joe’s tumor.
Jessica Guarnaschelli, MD, a radiation oncologist at Precision Radiotherapy Center and the UC Brain Tumor Center, oversaw the radiation treatments that targeted the part of Joe’s brain tumor that could not be removed during conventional neurosurgery. A neuro-oncologist at the UC Brain Tumor Center oversaw his simultaneous chemotherapy treatments.
Joe, who lost his battle with brain cancer in April 2011, continues to give back to the research breakthroughs and technological developments that prolonged his life through the Joe Enzweiler Fund for Brain Tumor Research.
Joe, born in Cincinnati, majored in physics at Xavier University and earned a master’s degree in physics from the University of Alaska. He settled north of Fairbanks and eventually made poetry his life’s work. He is a nationally recognized poet whose poems have been published and read on National Public Radio’s Prairie Home Companion. His books include A Winter on Earth, The Man Who Ordered Perch, and A Curb in Eden.
“Physics and poetry are not that far apart,” Joe once said. “They certainly weren’t in the Middle Ages. It was only after the Enlightenment and Age of Reason that we re-categorized science as separate from poetry. Philosophy was part of science in the time of Isaac Newton. I went into physics because I was always in love with poetry. It had to do with the stars, the moon, astronomy, and telescopes.”
Joe was immersed in writing poems and his memoir when, during a summer trip in central Kentucky with an old friend, he suffered a seizure. He was diagnosed with a grade 3 astrocytoma, a type of glioma. A Kentucky neurosurgeon removed all but about 5 percent of the tumor. The remainder was in a deeper part of Joe’s brain, in an “eloquent” area that was involved with the muscular function of Joe’s right arm.
Joe’s aggressive, post-surgical treatment consisted of chemotherapy seven days a week and radiation five days a week over a period of six and a half weeks. Throughout his treatment, Joe remained secure in the knowledge that his life has been well lived.
“You re-prioritize,” he reflected at the time. “In the way that colors have value, the sunrise, humor, and being with old friends have a changed value now. It’s not about seizing the day. That’s a state of panic. I don’t have to seize the day because I might fall over dead tomorrow. But it’s important to acknowledge and not let things go unfinished. I’ve noticed that you often think you’ll get back to things, but you really don’t. So I do things now.”
To make a donation to the Joe Enzweiler Fund for Brain Tumor Research, please contact:
Peggy A. A’Hearn
Director of Development, College of Medicine
The University of Cincinnati Foundation
PO Box 19970
Cincinnati, OH 45219-0970
Associate Director of Development
UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute
PO Box 670570
260 Stetson Street, Suite 5221
Cincinnati Ohio 45267-0570