A cancer diagnosis is some of the most devastating news a person can receive. Battling the disease is a personal fight, but nobody does it alone. Strength provided by family and faith undergirds the medical care. Friends have a role, too — especially friends who have been down the same difficult road.
Dan Wheeler and Terry Yoder know where that road can lead — and who those friends are.
Both men are leaders in the Machinery Dealers National Association (MDNA). Wheeler is the organization’s first vice-president and Yoder is a board director-at-large and the Detroit-Toledo area Chapter Representative. Their long-time personal and professional relationship took on a new dimension after Wheeler learned in November of 2018 that he had developed testicular cancer. Yoder was among many MDNA colleagues who soon learned of the situation and responded with gestures of help and support for Wheeler, his wife Gina, and their three children.
“Terry’s one of my best friends,” Wheeler says. “And we were friends long before cancer.”
Then, in September of 2021, Yoder learned that he had prostate cancer. Wheeler was among many from the MDNA who offered him immediate encouragement. And Yoder soon realized that Wheeler is one of several key MDNA officials who also happen to be cancer survivors. They rallied to his side as he began his chemotherapy regimen. He describes the bond they share as “kind of like the Marines’ slogan — ‘the few, the proud’” —and laughs as he recalls the many late-night text sessions among members of the group, when humorous and poignant observations on life and health are exchanged.
Wheeler has been an MDNA member since 1997. Soon after he joined the family business, Wheeler Machinery Sales, Inc., in Pomona, Calif., he realized the association was a great way to broaden his contacts in the used-machinery world. That involvement took on an entirely different significance when cancer entered his life.
Following a rough chemotherapy regimen in early 2019, Wheeler was not certain he could attend the MDNA national convention in May of that year. But he made the drive to the gathering in Palm Springs from his home in east suburban Los Angeles because he was being considered for elevation to the organization’s leadership ranks. Wheeler felt he wasn’t yet up to the demands of the job, and he wanted the board to know he might not be equal to the task right away.
“I was fighting gravity at that time,” is how the former collegiate athlete describes the difficulty he had even getting out of bed in the morning. “But I knew I had to get to the convention to let the officers know what things were like.”
The board’s reaction was, he said, “one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard.”
“‘Dan, we’ll wait a year for you,’ they told me. ’We want you to be our treasurer.’”
The wait was well worth it, for all concerned. Wheeler has risen through the officer ranks and is scheduled to be president of the MDNA board in 2025.
Yoder owns Yoder Machinery, established by his parents in 1957 in Holland, Ohio, and sustained by three generations of Yoder siblings, cousins, and now his son, Cody. His wife Erika and other family members have been his primary support from his diagnosis, through chemotherapy, and continuing follow-up treatments.
“I was blessed,” he reflects, looking back at how far he has progressed in the past year-and-a-half. Without Erika, he says, “I don’t know what I would have done.” And the strength he found at home was bolstered by the support from what he calls his “second family” of MDNA colleagues.
“It’s never supposed to happen to you,” he says of the disease that has changed his life. “It came as quite a shock. But you learn to deal with things and I’ve had so much support from my friends in the MDNA. We laugh together, and we cry together. It’s unbelievable. Just unbelievable.”
The MDNA was established as a trade organization, but it is an organization of people. They come from different backgrounds and circumstances, each bringing special qualities and talents to the group’s purpose. Dan Wheeler and Terry Yoder have found, in MDNA people, comfort for the spirit and soul — and a unique camaraderie survivors share.