Along with talking up Indy’s famous and fiery shrimp cocktail sauce from the historic St. Elmo’s Steak House, and bragging about the largest kid’s museum in the country, Chris Gahl is not shy when it comes to touting one of IU Health’s most respected cancer doctors, Lawrence Einhorn.
The New Year had just started and Chris Gahl, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Visit Indy, sat on a stage beneath the bright lights of the Indiana Convention Center. He shared the stage with a man who also helped promote the city – former Indianapolis Colts’ quarterback Peyton Manning.
In front of a crowd of about 1,200 people, Gahl was poised and ready to ask Manning questions about his football career in Indianapolis. The event was the Visit Indy Annual Meeting – a time when the city’s stakeholders hear the highlights from a successful year of Indianapolis tourism.
“When I say the word ‘Indianapolis’ what emotion does that evoke?” Gahl asked Manning. Then he listened as Manning talked about his early years in his hometown that hosted the Super Bowl in 2012.
Facilitating the Q & A with one of the most iconic athletes in football history was undoubtedly a highlight of Gahl’s career.
But there was another Q & A session that discreetly marks a turning point in Gahl’s life. It was with IU Health oncologist Dr. Lawrence Einhorn. This Q & A was in the privacy of Dr. Einhorn’s office and Gahl didn’t need to ask the questions. They were answered without prompting.
“When he entered the room for the first time he introduced himself and sat down in a chair right next to me,” said Gahl. “I expected him to be wearing a white coat and sitting on a doctor’s stool but he pulled his chair right up next to me and said, ‘how are you doing? I know you must be scared. I know you have family. How are they doing?’”
Gahl was in Dr. Einhorn’s office seeking answers. He had just been diagnosed with testicular cancer and he was there to find reassurance, to gain confidence in his treatment plan.
“He answered my first two questions before I asked them. I have never felt so loved so quickly by another human being in my life,” said Gahl, who turned 41 on December 13.
After they talked for a bit, Dr. Einhorn told Gahl that there were two doctors from two different countries shadowing him for the day and since Gahl was seasoned in the area of hospitality, would he mind offering a warm welcome to the visitors. Gahl happily obliged. It’s what he’s done for 14 years in his role with an organization that promotes tourism in the state’s capital city. It is through that role that Gahl was no stranger to Dr. Einhorn.
“I had studied Dr. Einhorn. I had talked about Dr. Eihorn and I had pitched him to members of the media as far back at 2008,” said Gahl. “I was familiar with his treatment of testicular cancer and because my profession promotes Indianapolis inside and outside the city part of that is culling over people who are interesting people. Dr. Einhorn’s reputation with curing testicular cancer makes him an Indiana ambassador,” said Gahl. “We don’t only promote major sporting events, chefs and athletes, we promote leading oncologists – people making a difference.”
Patients have traveled from around the world seeking care from Dr. Lawrence Einhorn; known for his successful treatment of testicular cancer – germ cell tumors – using a mix of high dose chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant.
“When the world’s leading oncologist for testicular cancer resides in your community, you call,” said Gahl. When Indianapolis hosted Super Bowl 2012 Gahl in fact pitched Dr. Einhorn’s story to several sports writers, promoting men’s health.
Gahl is passionate about the cause – in part because of his own family’s experiences facing cancer.
Gahl’s maternal grandmother died of complications from breast cancer; his mother, Nancy Gahl, is a 20-year breast cancer survivor and his great grandfather died of complications from testicular cancer.
It was the last Friday in September. Gahl, his wife of 17 years Catherine Eberspacher and their sons Kanoa, 12, and Kai, 10, had just returned from one of their favorite vacation spots – Hawaii. Gahl had felt a dull ache in his groin. He made an appointment with his urologist when he returned home.
“He examined me and there was no lump, but I felt God poke me in the back and I asked my urologist for an ultrasound. They did one to be safe,” said Gahl. It was that poke in the back that marked a turning point in his personal life. On October 3 he got the news – there was a sizeable mass in his right testicle. He had surgery within 72 hours and had his first meeting with Dr. Einhorn on October 17.
“When I sent him an email he responded within 17 minutes and said he’d be happy to see me and he copied his scheduler so I could get an appointment in a few days. I have kept that message because it reaffirmed his authentic desire to help his patients,” said Gahl.
A graduate of Pike High School and Butler University, Gahl has visited 44 islands across five continents, has helped generate millions of tourism dollars, and was once named to the Indianapolis Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40.” In addition to Peyton Manning, he personally knows some of Indianapolis’ most influential people – including the city’s 49th Mayor Joe Hogsett.
And when he learned of his cancer diagnosis, Gahl turned to another intimate relationship.
“After my surgery, the weather was nice. I had the windows open and I put away work and spent a lot of time praying and refocusing my life lens,” said Gahl. “I’ve always focused on work and life balance and this time I put away the phone and laptop and focused on faith and family.”
A member of Cornerstone Lutheran Church, Gahl turned to his pastors, his mother, his wife, his brother and two sons for support. And he looked to Dr. Einhorn to help him navigate his treatment plan.
“He said, ‘Chris, men from all over the world have sat in this chair and have been successfully treated. You will be no different,” said Gahl. Based on CT scans, Dr. Einhorn recommended no additional treatment after his surgery. No radiation. No chemotherapy. He suggested monitoring what he described as “pin prick cancer cells” and felt that Gahl’s body would fight off those cells.
“He asked if I felt comfortable with that and I said, ‘yes, I trust you,’” said Gahl. Since then, he exercises regularly and is judicious about what he puts into his body. His recent blood work and follow up scans showed no tumors. And like the poke in his back encouraging him to request the original ultrasound Gahl is responding to others who have reached out about their own cancer diagnosis.
“When someone asks to meet with me, I make that a priority,” said Gahl. “Sitting with them helps me put things in perspective – I caught it early. I’m an advocate for monitoring mental and physical health. I don’t bring it up proactively but if someone brings it up I’m happy to faith share and I’ve been really moved by the reciprocal faith connection. I’m thankful this process has strengthened my faith, refocused my life lens and helped me share with family and friends. I’m thankful God is in control.”
— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email email@example.com.