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"Room for Hope" by Don Beman


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http://www.marshallindependent.com/page ... l?nav=5017


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Editor's Note: Don Beman, who owns the Canby News with his wife Ellie, is a veteran journalist who has often written stories of people's personal tragedies and triumphs. We asked him to share his personal story with our readers, and we're pleased the same candidness Beman inspires in others was inspired in himself. Here's his story, in his words.

Hi. My name is Don Beman and I have stage four lung cancer.

I found out I had cancer the first Friday afternoon of last July after going to a doctor about a sinus infection. Dr. Mahdu Potla checked me over - said he had no idea why, but he thought I should have a chest X-ray.

I didn't question his judgment because for months I had been experiencing a string of minor infections and even influenza B, plus every little bug that showed up. In the back of my mind I knew something was going on because I had never had one thing right after another over a period of months like that.

The mention of an X-ray brought a chill only a former smoker who quit because of the fear of cancer can have. I told myself to wait and see.

It didn't take long for a radiologist to come up with a preliminary verdict and I heard those horrible words, "You probably have lung cancer."

The "probably" part meant it was there, we just didn't know which kind - large cell or small cell, small cell being the worst of all possible answers.

I heard the doctor talking, but the words seemed to come from afar, as life as I knew it came to an end. Gone were the plans and possibilities for a summer break from a small town newspaper work schedule that is jammed from September to June by school and community events. Everything was now about survival.

I had lost a classmate and friend to lung cancer just a few months before and I wondered if my life from this day forward was going to be as short as his had been after diagnosis - a few months.

In one of those unexplainable moments when thoughts were bouncing high and low under extreme stress I wondered who Ellie, my wife, could get to shovel snow, then thought to myself what an idiotic thing to worry about right then.

But it is Minnesota and snow and ice are never really very far from our minds, even in July and even under the circumstances.

Thus began weeks of tests separated by three or four days each week - generally the weekends plus Mondays and maybe parts of Tuesdays - putting together the Canby News. Self employment has its down side and that's one of them, not being able to put in for some vacation time.

The tests showed that cancer had already migrated to a bone in my leg and a medical oncologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester gave me a statistical life span of nine months to five years with only 2 percent reaching five years.

An orthopedic surgeon looked at the pictures and said the bone had not been damaged as yet, but cancer was there.

"Zap it with some radiation right now and you probably won't have to see me later," he said.

A Mayo radiation oncologist came up with a five-day zap.

Arrangements were made for chemotherapy at a place close to home - Prairie Lakes in Watertown, S.D. There, the oncologist said the statistics I had been given were true, but were put together over a period of years in which the drugs used today were not available, especially those used to counter the side effects of chemotherapy. Plus, he said, more advancements are just around the corner.

The oncologist said lung cancer likes to migrate to the brain as well as to bone. He called for a brain scan, which showed it was not there yet. The oncologist said a relatively new drug, which he called a biological vaccine, will keep it from spreading to the brain. It was added to the chemotherapy regimen.

A treatment program was set up and the chemo began. Just a few minutes into the six-hour session of pumping the various drugs into my system, I passed out. The oncologist adjusted the flow of drugs and chemo resumed.

Everything seemed OK until a couple days later when my temperature started going up and I crashed. The medical response was fast and furious. In short order, it was discovered that I had two different internal infections unrelated to cancer that had been aggravated by the effects of the chemotherapy drugs.

By this time - the first part of September - I was feeling the full brunt of the cancer on top of the two infections, which required two different antibiotics simultaneously. The side effects of the antibiotics, chemotherapy and the direct effects of cancer were draining. My hair fell out. I could not get up and down stairs on my own. At times I could barely walk unassisted. I had no stamina and I was losing weight, eventually 30-plus pounds.

I thought this was the way I was going to have to live from now on, if I lived at all. Was it worth it? I didn't have an answer.

The oncologist suggested I hold off judgment. He was. The antibiotics prescribed were harsh, especially together, he said, but those infections had to be stopped quickly. Right in the middle of this I had surgery to implant the so-called "port" through which the chemotherapy drugs would be given. The port was placed beneath the skin next to the collar bone in front. It has a tube that goes directly into the circulatory system. It replaced temporary needles in the arm to both get blood for tests and to put in, or infuse, the chemotherapy drugs.

I went for the second chemo session, which were scheduled three weeks apart. The infections were gone and there was a flicker of change.

It wasn't just the treatment, although getting rid of the infections helped a lot. It was something every doctor, nurse and assistant from Sanford, Mayo Clinic and Prairie Lakes told me was as important as what they were doing - attitude, my attitude.

I had been getting a steady stream of cards, phone calls, e-mails and people stopping in telling me I was in their thoughts and prayers. One day a group of people, actually a group of groups, asked if they could hold a fund-raiser or something that would give anyone in the community a chance to, as they put it, "do something."

I said no. But in their own caring and sincere way they quietly insisted that I reconsider. They argued that many people wanted to share, to help out, but they had no way to do it. I gave in. I suggested my 65th birthday was coming up and thus the Beman Birthday Bash of Oct. 19, 2008, at the Presbyterian Church came about.

I didn't know what to expect and was not in on the planning.

There's no single word to describe what came of this event. But it did have a profound impact, which those who organized it knew or hoped it would. They were right. I was wrong.

This was the turning point.

All those cards, letters, calls, e-mails before and now those who showed up at the birthday bash helped me see a horizon that widened and deepened with the colors

of a rising sun instead of the enveloping darkness of a setting sun. It no longer mattered whether it was nine months or nine years. Each new day was a celebration and a prayer of thanks for those who share and care individually or in groups when someone, anyone, is in trouble.

The water bottle I saved from the bash sits on my desk as a reminder of the depth of human feeling.

By the next month I began to gain weight. Chemotherapy was working very well. My overall physical condition improved. I had no side effects from chemo. Well, not the really bad ones. I could not taste anything for two out of three weeks, or an orange would taste like cardboard or worse. I came up with a little game of trying to remember what something tasted like before I put it in my mouth. It helped.

Christmas week was my last chemo session. I will continue to go back monthly for two drugs given intravenously. The oncologist said it could be months or years before I have a recurrence, at which point chemo would be used again and probably with good results again.

Today, I feel physically normal, which I did not think was possible just a couple of months ago.

I wish this had never happened. But I can't change it now.

What I can do is take hope from those who give me the care I need now and who tell me there is definitely room for it based on the results so far and build faith on the gifts of prayer and compassion that came from those around me.

I refuse to number the days ahead, but I do pledge to honor them one day at a time.

What I can also do is share my story because lung cancer, even advanced, is not the death sentence it was just five years ago or three years or even two.

Early detection of any cancer is always best. Not smoking ever is also best. But absent those two conditions, there's still hope as I discovered. I got a couple breaks and I have it.

Others can, too.

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(Marshall Independent, Southwestern Minnesota's Daily Newspaper, January 22, 2009)


The information contained in these articles may or may not be in agreement with my own opinions. They are not being posted with the intention of being medical advice of any kind.

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