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2020 Honorary Co-Chairs
Parker’s story started in January 2019. My daycare provider would call me at work and let me know that he had a fever. At this point his fevers were only happening about once or twice a month. I would take him in to the first available doctor and was just told that whatever he had was viral and had to run its course. Skip forward to April and Parker was having a fever once a week. No other real symptoms to being sick besides the fever. Once again, we were told that what he had was viral and had to run its course. Unfortunately, his fevers only got worse. By the end of May, Parker was having a fever every day. On may 28th I decided to take him to my PA, Gina Hawkins. I was at the end of my rope with being told that whatever he had was viral. I wanted some tests done and I wanted to know what was wrong with our baby. On a side note, I usually bring Parker to his appointments by myself, but this day I called my husband and asked if he would come with to this one. In hindsight, that was God’s way of telling me that we were definitely going to need each other in the next couple of hours. As we say down in the room with Gina she asked the normal questions, and then some key questions that I knew weren’t good. “He looks pale, has he always been that way?” and “Does he always seem to have that many bruises?” She then asked if she could do some blood work. When she left the room I had this sinking feeling in my gut that I wasn’t going to like what we found out. About 5 minutes after the nurse came and got his blood Gina walked in with one of the doctors. The sat down and said those words that you never want to hear as a parent. “Unfortunately, we think your son has leukemia. You need to get him to Sioux Falls to the castle, tonight.”
He was diagnosed with Acute Lymphobiastic Leukemia.
We spent the next 10 days in the hospital. We had so many of our family and friends come visit. Parker went through so many test, x-rays, pokes, and meds that week. It’s amazing that he still likes the doctor! Those first 6 months we’re pretty much hell. Weekly chemo trips to Sioux Falls, PICC line removal, port placement surgery, sleepless nights with nerve pain from the chemo, endless medications to combat all the side effects, hair loss, ROID RAGE, multiple lumbar punctures, quite few ER visits that lead to hospitalization, staph infection, constipation, the list goes on and on!! In the midst of Parker going through all that Josh, his dad, hit a deer, my engine went to crap, and our basement, along with so many others, got flooded with 3 feet of sewage. They say when it rains, it pours. 2019 definitely poured on our Parker. In the midst of this storm that we are facing our families and friends are warming our hearts like the rays of sunshine bursting through the clouds. I honestly don’t know where we would be without their love and support.
My journey began on April 10, 2018 with a routine mammogram. This was not my first mammogram, but it had been a couple years since my last one. My mom, who was 75 at the time, was having some medical issues and one of the recommendations was to have a mammogram. Since I usually attend most of her medical appointments, I figured I would schedule one for myself as well since I will be there already.
Coincidentally, we were both recalled after the initial mammogram. So again, we went together. My mother was cleared after this appointment, but I was recalled again for a biopsy. At this point, I thought I was recalled because the technician did not get good enough pictures, it never once crossed my mind that this could turn out to be anything because I had no family history of cancer.
During my biopsy appointment, which I had two biopsies on my left breast, I remember sitting in the waiting area with the radiologist while the techs were getting the equipment ready for the second procedure. While making small talk with the physician, I remember asking him if I should be worried, because I was not worried at all. I had no family history, I just thought I was going through the motions. He reassured me that I should not worry, but that I should not rule anything out.
It was April 30, 2018 around 11:00 when I received a phone call telling me that one of the biopsies came back positive. I had been diagnosed with grade 2 invasive ductal carcinoma, a hormone induced cancer. From this date, and for the next 6 weeks, it was a whirl-wind of appointments with my team of doctors, further tests, scans, x-rays, and genetic counseling leading up to June 14, 2018 when I went into surgery for a bilateral mastectomy. Prior to genetic testing, my plan was to have a lumpectomy and radiation. But the genetic testing found a gene mutation called Chek2 which can cause breast cancer, prostate cancer, or colon cancer. By opting to have a mastectomy, it reduced my odds of having a second breast cancer diagnosis to 1%.
I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. My cancer was found early, I was healthy at the time enabling me to heal fairly quickly. After oncotype testing and meeting with my oncologist, it was decided that neither chemo nor radiation were necessary. Once I fully healed from the mastectomy, I was able to move forward with reconstructive surgery October 8, 2018. It truly seems like a lifetime ago, and is hard to believe that by the time of the 2020 Heart & Sole Cancer Walk I will have been 2 years cancer free!
I credit my support system for assisting me in being able to “cruise” through this process so eloquently. When I was over-come with emotion, my family was always there to assist and care for me. The love and support that was provided during this time was so over-whelming. It truly showed me what the sense of community and love meant. Friends near and far were supporting me in so many ways, and they are the ones that propelled me through. It is true that in times of need you really find out who your friends are and I could not have been more blessed to have their support.
I encourage everyone to get their yearly screenings. Do it for yourself, your family, and your friends. I am living proof that it can happen to anyone.
To stand before you today and say that cancer was a blessing for me seems a bit strange to say the least. The fact that I had cancer didn't surprise me; I always thought someday I would. Even today, coming up on my 5th year as a survivor it still seems a bit surreal. However, I never thought I'd be here as a 3x cancer survivor. Maybe that's because I associated having cancer as being sick ... 1 wasn't sick, I felt great. Or maybe it's because of the type of the first cancer I had and the rarity of male breast cancer. About 250,000 women will be diagnosed annually with breast cancer but only 2,000 guys will be. That's one in every 2 million men. I've beaten cancer three times and if it ever comes back again, I will beat it again. I am the poster child for early detection, and it was that early detection that was the key for winning the battle, an expeditious recovery and allowing me to still be here today. I cannot stress enough the importance of early detection. If something does seem right or feel right, go get it checked ... here's my story.
I've been blessed with great health all my life. I had the usual colds, flu etc. but I was always diligent about getting my annual physicals. We'd had been monitoring a glandular lump in my breast for about a year that gave no indication or cause for concern. In the fall of 2014, my nipple started to crack, peel, bleed and begin to heal but never completed the healing process. After about 3 months it was time to go see my doctor. We treated it for dermatitis, but it got worse.
We made a call to Edith Sanford breast clinic in Fargo, did a mammogram and 2 ultrasounds. The next day, Jan 11, 2015 my doctor called and shared the three words you never want to hear ... you have cancer. I was diagnosed with stage 3B breast cancer and skin cancer. My tumor broke through the skin, causing skin cancer. I thought I was prepared for it, but quickly found out; you never really are prepared to get that kind of news. 2 weeks later I had a full mastectomy followed by 16 rounds of chemo over 20 weeks and 25 radiation treatments. I rang the bell August 28, 2015.
My ah-ha moment came in September of that year, the day Flip Saunders died. Back up to a mid-July day, 2 weeks after my last chemo treatment, it was 95 degrees in Fargo, that rarely happens. I was freezing, I put on the heaviest sweat suit I could find and crawled in bed with 2 comforters. My wife came home a few minutes later and called the oncologist who asked what my temp was ... it was 104. He said go straight to ER, ASAP. I didn't want to go, thinking I'd be fine the next morning, just let me sleep it off. I went to ER, it was PACKED. The receptionist said it would be a wait of 2.5 hours. I said I was going home.
As I turned to leave, I was approached by a nurse who asked if I was Mark. I said yes and she said come with me right now. I had chemo fever. Flip Saunders died from having a chemo fever.
Fast forward to December 2016. Through my annual physical we found a slightly elevated psa test. We did a few more tests over the following weeks and it continued to climb. The numbers weren't high, but they were too high for my age. We did a biopsy in January 2017 and discovered that 70% of my prostate had cancer. We had 2 options radiation or removal. Both options come with life changing consequences. After a lot of thought, conversation and prayer, I had it removed on March 14, 2017 and was cancer free once again as it didn't spread beyond the gland. To beat cancer, you need five things: faith, family, friends, a strong mental attitude and a rock star medical team. You can't be weak in any of those areas.
The mental side of cancer is more difficult than the physical side. It shatters your self-confidence-who you are. Everything is different and everything is measured in before and after. While going through treatments there were things I couldn't do anymore and that was incredibly frustrating. And it takes a long, long time to get back to 100%. In fact, the new 100% is different than the 100% before cancer. There are now things that I can't do or don't do as well as I used to ... could be the maintenance drugs I'm on or it could be getting older. Cancer teaches you patience and perseverance.
To the healthcare providers, thank you for what you do. The compassion you have for your patients is amazing. It takes a truly special person to care for cancer patients. When you walk into the cancer center, the first thing you notice is how many people are there and you know they are either a patient or a caregiver. You also notice immediately that cancer doesn't discriminate. There are elderly people, young children, professional businesspeople and homeless people all with one thing in common.
To the caregivers, you'll never fully understand the importance and what your love and support means to your loved one going through this. I think it's easier to be the patient than it is to be the caregiver.
To the patients and survivors, don't give up don't ever give up. Keep fighting and when you get too tired to fight, let someone else do it for you. You are an inspiration for others going through cancer. I drew my inspiration from a 7 year little boy who while going through treatments looked at his dad and told him everything was going to be ok. He passed away a few weeks later. Look, I get you might want to bury this part of your life and sometimes I do to. But it's part of who we are and remember how you felt when you first got the news, how scared you were. Be there for others who are going through it, you can provide comfort and understanding to them that others can't.
I opened by telling you I feel blessed to have gone through this. That's probably because I'm still here today and cancer free; because I met a lot of amazing people, learned a lot about life, even more about myself. I'm honored to be able to share my story and help others as they face their battles with cancer. The 2 most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you figure out why. As I was going through treatments, I asked God why a lot. Not from a self-pity standpoint but because I wanted to find a way to turn this into a positive and have something good come from it. Only time will tell but maybe this is why I was born.