Werner conducts again during cancer battle


Breanna Rae Weber

A smiling Cris Werner stands outside of Verhulst.

On Sept. 15, Christopher Werner, assistant professor of instrumental music and director of bands, returned from a four-month absence after a battle with early stage esophageal cancer.

Werner began feeling ill during the previous school year when he was unable to eat anything without feeling nauseous. He eventually made an appointment with his doctor. X-rays were taken of his neck and the culprit was a large tumor lodged in his throat, blocking access to his stomach. The tumor was found malignant, and Werner had to undergo chemotherapy, radiation, and eventually surgery.

He was sent to St. Luke’s Hospital in Milwaukee where he was prepped for a six-hour surgery. The procedure involved cutting out the portion of esophagus that held the tumor and extending a part of the stomach lining to connect it with the throat.

“It was a very severe surgery,” said Werner.

Without part of his esophagus, Werner’s voice became hoarse. He was hooked up to a machine that fed him but he still lost weight from chemotherapy. Werner remained in the hospital for one week after the surgery.

“It was scary,” said Werner. “I went through rapid weight loss.”

When he returned to Lakeland, he explained his condition to the concert band at the beginning of class on Sept. 15.

During Werner’s absence, the band still practiced music to be prepared for Werner’s return.

Senior instrumental music and performance major Matt Troyer, as well as others, gave the band tips for improvement.

“It is a big relief to see him back,” said Troyer.

“I can’t stress enough how pleased I am with Lakeland and how they handled my absence,” said Werner. “They have been just fantastic.”

According to Werner, his battle is not over yet. The chemotherapy side effects will remain for another year. He might have to go back to the hospital for more chemotherapy, but he hopes to get his voice back in time.

At the moment, Lakeland has given him a microphone and speaker to amplify his soft voice.

“I am super excited to have Dr. Werner back and to get this semester started for band,” said Justine Watson, senior studio and graphic art major. “He is an inspiration to many of us.”