Minnesota journalist goes from being one in a million to beating cancer

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(ABC 6 News) – What started out as a one-in-a-million cancer diagnosis for Christopher Ingraham, a self-proclaimed born-again Minnesotan, has now become a second chance at life thanks to Mayo Clinic.

Ingraham, the former Washington Post journalist who described Red Lake County, Minnesota as the worst place to live in America back in 2014, has been living in the county for eight years now.

After returning home from a family vacation last summer, Ingraham felt sick and his wife had started to notice a yellow color growing in his eyes.

“It started eight months ago. I started turning yellow and I went into a local ER,” Ingraham said. “They just kept sending me to progressively bigger and bigger hospitals until we got down to Fargo. That’s when they started talking about cancer for the first time. The way it looked for a while there, for most of last fall, we were working under the assumption that it was bile duct cancer.”

Since bile duct cancer can only be cured by having it cut out of the liver and replaced with a liver transplant, the situation looks grim for Ingraham and his family. That was until the Mayo team treating him found it to be something else.

“Mayo was like ‘We’ve seen one other case like this in the past 20 years.’ Where you’ve got this kind of definitive bile duct cancer signal on the imagery and then it turns out to be lymphoma. Like one time in 20 years, so that’s so infrequent like it’s not going to be on the doctor’s radar,” said Ingraham.

The timing of the original diagnosis came only a month after Ingraham started a new job with Minnesota Reformer. Ingraham, who lives up in Northwest Minnesota in Red Lake County, was 305 miles away

“It was particularly painful because he’s up in northwest Minnesota and we were not able to be there for him,” said Patrick Coolican, editor-in-chief of Minnesota Reformer. “That was difficult, and here’s this really engaging, brilliant guy, journalist, who we thought was going to be this amazing addition to our team. Then, he’s sick and he’s got three little boys and it was just heartbreaking.”

With the cancer now in remission, Ingraham looks back at the timing of his diagnosis and hiring with a Midwestern sense of humor.

“I have to be the worst new hire of all time because they brought me on and literally a month later, I was like, oh by the way, I have cancer,” he said. “But they’ve been tremendously supportive, tremendously flexible. And you know, I’m just the new guy, they barely know me, but they’ve been really great.”

Being that one patient in 20 years was not only a surprising joy to Ingraham, but his doctor, Dr. Gina Thanarajasingam, and her team as well.

“He’s a really special patient, said Thanarajasingam. “He’s a journalist with three young kids, and to be able to offer that hope and talk about a complete pivot in his treatment was something that we could see was meaningful not only to him but to all of us who took care of him.”

Now that the cancer is in remission, the next thing for Ingraham, his wife, and his three boys to do is to take some time away from Minnesota after a very long winter.

“It’s been overwhelming. I think we still, there’s still a lot of processing we need to do, we want to go for like a vacation this summer or something just to kind of, take a breath cuz yeah. It’s been, it’s been non-stop,” Ingraham said.

One thing Ingraham wanted to share with anyone who is going through any type of cancer treatment is to sign up for the clinical trials that hospitals, like Mayo, are offering. As they can help provide new research into possible cures for cancer and advance medical science.