When my friend Jil Fiemeyer asked me to write a blog about cancer treatment, my first thought was I’m a talker not a writer. I can ramble on at length about many issues, but this writing thing was going to be a challenge. Back in the fall of 2000, I was experiencing some issues with abdominal cramping and a slight pain on my right side. The most concerning thing was I was losing weight. I have always been a big boy and when the pounds started falling off I thought it was time to see my doctor. I have had three doctors in my life, Dr. Luther Davis delivered me at Wesley Hospital, Dr. Leland Reichelt took over from Dr. Davis and now I see another Davis, Dr. Steve Davis.
I made an appointment with Steve and one of the first things he told me was that I would need a colonoscopy. Having heard the jokes and horror stories of the procedure I said, what else ya got? We went through a number of tests looking for a problem; all looked good except some of my blood work. I had no choice so we scheduled a colonoscopy the following week.
The findings were not good…colon cancer. Was I frightened? Way, way beyond frightened. The surgery was scheduled a week later, Dr. Tom VanBruggen who had done the colonoscopy would also do the surgery. He was confident he could fix me. The surgery went well, but the cancer had progressed farther than originally thought. Dr. Paul Etzell was the oncologist at TCHC at the time and he recommended six months of chemotherapy. I was 44 at the time, healed quickly and the side effects to the chemo were minimal.
The same year one of my sisters was diagnosed with colon cancer and another sister had a colon resection due to a pre-cancerous growth. Dr. Etzell suggested we get involved with a study through the Mayo Clinic in Rochester that dealt with family history of colon cancer. When you put family health history down on paper it can be a bit scary. I had an uncle that died of colon cancer at age 42, his sons had cancer issues and one passed away from cancer, his grandson also died of colon cancer at age 28. Colon cancer was on both sides of the family along with other types of cancer, you look at the family history and all you can say is I am doomed.
It was about this time that I was diagnosed with Lynch Syndrome. You can look it up and find out for yourself what Lynch Syndrome is, but in a nutshell it means that I am more than likely than not to be susceptible to different kinds of cancer due to a genetic disorder. My sisters were checked and both tested negative for Lynch.
Things went on quite nicely for the next seven or eight years. In the fall of 2008, I was sitting in a deer stand with my brother Ron. I knew Ron was sick and I tried to talk him into going to get checked out. Ron lived in the twin cities and was as stubborn as I was when it came to seeking medical help. I even recommended that we make an appointment with Dr. Davis at TCHC. He promised me he would see a doctor after the holidays, after the craziness of the holiday season in the bakery subsided. He made good on his promise and sought medical help.
To make a long story short, Ron passed away at the age of 57 in September of 2009 from colon cancer. He was my only brother and one of the best men I have ever known. I miss him everyday especially when leaves start to drop in the fall and hunting season comes around. I wish now that I would have dragged him to TCHC to get checked out. I know they would have diagnosed Ron’s condition quickly and the care he would have received would have been top notch. No one knows if the outcome would have been different, but sometimes an early diagnosis, even two or three months can make a big difference.
After Ron’s passing both my daughter and his were tested for Lynch Syndrome and thankfully both tested negative.
Over the next few years I had a colonoscopy or two and had minor health issues like we all do. A kidney stone or two and a few other ailments. In the late winter of 2012 and into 2013, I noticed blood in my urine on occasion. I thought I had a kidney stone stuck. I was not in pain and the blood only showed up on rare occasions. I knew something was wrong so I started self diagnosis on sites like WebMD. DON’T DO THIS! It either scares the hell out of you, or, fools you into believing that the issue you have is no big thing.
I made an appointment in the early summer of 2013 (time of year here gets a bit fuzzy as the next two years were going to be a wild ride) to see Dr. Davis to put my mind at ease that what I was experiencing was not serious. Steve said let’s take a picture of your kidney to see if you have a stone stuck somewhere. The x-ray revealed a tumor on my ureter. The tumor had done severe damage to my left kidney. Steve immediately referred me to Dr. Greg Parries, a physician from St. Cloud that makes regular visits to Tri-County. Dr. Parries did a number of tests and diagnosed me with bladder and ureter cancer. He recommended I have the tumor in the bladder removed immediately and undergo several months of chemo before surgery to remove the ureter tumor and my left kidney. I began a round of chemotherapy in July of 2013 under the supervision of Dr. Wade Swenson, another fantastic oncologist that visits TCHC on a regular basis, the chemo ended in November of that year. Thank the Lord that all of the chemo could be done at TCHC in Wadena. Surgery was the first week in December of 2013 in St. Cloud.
I was feeling pretty good in late winter of 2014. Outstanding care at TCHC and many prayers from friends and family helped immensely. In the spring of 2014, I started having issues with severe stomach cramping. It would last for an afternoon or evening and the next day I felt fine. The pain and cramping became more frequent, so I went back to see Dr. Davis and we began another round of tests and found nothing. I knew what was next…another colonoscopy. Dr. Van Bruggen found colon cancer once again. He was confident he could do a resection and save part of my colon so I would not need a colostomy. He was right. But, I had to undergo more chemotherapy so I was back to Dr. Swenson. We began another round of chemo that was very hard on me. In October of 2014, I told Dr. Swenson I could no longer take it. Only half of the treatments were complete and I was worn out and sicker than I have ever been. Dr. Swenson came up with a new treatment and I was able to finish the treatments in April of 2015.
It was a crazy few years to say the least.
Today, I have some issues from the chemotherapy including neuropathy and a few other things you don’t talk about in mixed company. Other than that it didn’t hurt me to drop a few pounds, my hair came back with more cow licks than you can imagine and just as white as it was before I lost it. I was hoping my hair would come back Elvis black. No such luck.
The people at TCHC became like a second family to me. The people out front knew when I felt terrible and they tried their very best to put a smile on my face, and they usually succeeded. The CNA’s, the doctors and nurses gave me the very best care imaginable. The medical professionals in ambulatory care were outstanding. They nursed be back to health, fed me, kept me warm and treated me like their baby brother.
There is a big difference between being cared for and being cared about. All at TCHC really care about you and they do their very best to help you through hard times.
There are several people that I have not mentioned in this writing; the most important person in my life through this journey was my wife Linda. Linda and my daughter Katie played a huge role in getting me healthy again. Linda could drain my catheter bag and not even wake me up. That is a good woman!
I know that cancer was hard on me but it was just as hard on my wife and family. They go through the journey with you. Linda is a strong woman, but I know she had many sleepless nights wondering about the future. I know she was as frightened as I was. I know she cried more tears than I did. She was there for me and I can’t thank her enough or even begin to tell her how much I love her. She always told me to play the hand your dealt and we will get through this together. As always, she was right.
Thanks to all at TCHC, thanks to those that supported me beyond anything I could imagine and thank you for all the prayers.
Those of you that know me know that I have an odd sense of humor. Humor played a big part in my recovery, some of the stuff you just can’t make up. If you ever want to hear some funny stories, stop me on the street, if you are in a battle of your own with cancer and need to talk with someone or just need an ear to listen, give me a call, come on over the house, my door is always open.
Don’t be afraid to see your doctor. Don’t be afraid of the tests, some are not pleasant but you sleep a lot better when you hear those words….all looks good.
About the author:
Rick Youngbauer grew up in Wadena MN and continues to live there today. He is a dedicated husband, father and well known radio personality.