By Alan Gionet
DENVER (CBS4)– “They’re going to knock him down,” 2-year-old Porter Johnson’s mother Sarah told me.
Porter was headed for a round on intensive chemotherapy. Taking him down will hopefully one day, lift him up out of the reach of cancer.
“My daughter was four when I was diagnosed,” Amy Kress told me. “In her life I have had cancer longer than I haven’t.”
Amy has fought cancer since 2011. Cancer has become a part of their lives, as it has the lives of all of the people I spoke with this month. Parents of children, women, men.
Most all had no idea it was coming. Nearly all had no known risk factors.
“I had exactly one symptom to get lung cancer,” Anne Phillips mused. “I had lungs.”
You can live your life in fear thinking about that, or you can live your life.
“Cancer doesn’t define you,” said Denver’s best-known blues musician Chris Daniels as we talked about his friend David Booker.
Ron Batt went skydiving. He’d put it off before.
Amy Kress always wanted music in her life. She found it and picked up singing. She’s made albums.
“If you can make it through the battle it’s a launching pad for getting the most out of life that you possibly can,” said Daniels.
He should know. He has come out the other side of a battle with leukemia. He’ll play a benefit on Nov. 30 at the Mercury Café for David. I hope I can show up. David and Chris are unreal musicians.
Over the past month, I’ve been talking with people dealing with cancer as I tried to raise money and awareness about No Shave November. I’ve been pretty lousy at begging for money for my No Shave effort and haven’t raised a pile there. But, I’d post links to people’s personal fundraisers. After our story about Porter Johnson, people added $2,000 to the Dawg Nation Hockey charity effort for him. Dawg Nation tripled that with a match and gave it to Porter’s family.
I would like my father back, my mother back. I’d like my brother Dave back. Stephen Estrada has the same type of cancer that killed my brother: colorectal cancer. He is doing well. He found a unique immunotherapy treatment after he dropped to 100 pounds.
“I could feel it (inoperable tumor) twitching and a sharp pain as I was sitting in the chair getting the drug.”
The conversation made me emotional. I had often told my brother if he could only hang on for a few years, they’ll find something. That was nine years ago. His cancer was advanced when they first discovered it. Advances are coming.
Each person had their own way of dealing with it, but none had lost themselves. Larry Graziani was a linebacker at Notre Dame. Larry takes things straight on. He’s convinced his nutritional changes and hyperbaric oxygen treatments will help. Don’t get in his way.
Alex Hauenstein had a drug problem and was in trouble with the law at 19. He cleaned up. He was sober. Then cancer hit him.
“They said 95 percent of cancer is your mentality. So, I decided I wouldn’t believe I had it anymore.”
Then he went in for a scan. His tumors had withered.
George Keays went into deep sessions of meditation and yoga.
“Meditation is the absence of thought. You just kind of have to take your mind out of gear for a while.”
He has found an immunotherapy treatment in Cuba. He brought back enough to go for a while, now the Trump Administration is looking at dialing back travel. He says he’ll go through Mexico if he has to.
America’s health care system leaves holes in the ability to get care. Amy Kress is frustrated and angry.
She wrote me: “I’m unable to get out-of-network care at all unless I get a job that can provide it for me. Decent health care has become something I’m simply unable to get in Colorado.”
She has been told she has six to 12 months and is worried about her kids. Cancer tries to steal the joy and love you share, but it can’t.
“I wasn’t allowed to lift anything more than five or 10 pounds,” said Vivian Rae about the time after her double mastectomy. “That meant I couldn’t even pick him up and hold him,” she said about her baby boy.
She remembers just lying in bed next to her son, heartbroken she could not lift and hold him.
The people close to you give you a reason to push. If you get the chance, look up Tyler Swanson’s Facebook page. I had trouble getting individual photos of him for our piece. He has his wife and beautiful kids in every shot. I’ve never seen anything like it. Tyler had a golf ball sized tumor in the middle of his brain.
“They’re they light of my life,” he said.
In all of it, I got the most out of it.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” seemed pretty simple advice from Tracy Alarid.
No really, don’t sweat the small stuff. A woman with cancer told me that. It had more meaning.
Resilience is a human quality that is the best of our existence. It has allowed humanity to survive the worst atrocities, disasters and this monster they call cancer. It’s many diseases upon many people who find their own ways to keep their sense of self from it.
“I am a person,” said Vivian Rae. “Although I’ve been hit with a disease like this, it doesn’t define who I am.”
No it does not.
If you want to add $10 or a few more to my No Shave effort to fight cancer it’s here: https://no-shave.org/member/agionet