This fall has been a time of tumultuous change in my personal life. I have struggled with whether or not to publish this blog, but I felt that my longtime readers and friends would appreciate understanding my situation. I hope you all can indulge me with this single blog departure from focusing on the taxidermy industry and allow me to be more personal than I am generally comfortable with. I have never been one to post my daily shenanigans on Facebook, tending to keep my private life private, but on this Thanksgiving, my heart is full and I wish to share a bit of it.
It’s funny how our lives go on and on with slow incremental changes. Sometimes we have to look back for years to recognize how things are different from the way they were before. And then, out of nowhere, there are unexpected times when all of the waves and winds come crashing together into a prefect storm of turbulence, and life changes on a dime.
Several things were going well for me this year. My youngest daughter was expecting our sixth grandchild and she was going to name her after me: Kenley (which is my given name). After a decade of training horses and students at several top equestrian facilities, my daughter also decided that she wanted to start her own equestrian business on my property. The only catch was that I would have to borrow the money to build a new barn, arena, and fencing. With just a few years to go until my 30 year mortgage would be paid off, I made the decision to go into additional debt for another 20 years. But hey, we do anything to help our kids, don’t we? All summer I jumped through the financial hoops necessary to refinance my home. As with anything banking-related, it was way more complicated and cumbersome than they let on at the beginning of June when we started the process. After dragging on for four months with countless documents, applications, copies, surveys, appraisals, tax returns, financial statements, and more tax returns, we were still anxiously waiting for final approval in mid September.
After turning sixty three years ago, I had placed a renewed emphasis on maintaining my health. I joined a gym and was working out three times a week with my son-in-law. I had eliminated all wheat from my diet which stopped the onset of pre-diabetes, and I was exercising and working outdoors regularly. My doctor was monitoring my blood work every six months to check things out. All of the numbers were moving in the right direction with the exception of my PSA level which kept increasing each year. The doctor told me not to worry, because PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) numbers generally go up with age.
When my PSA level jumped higher this summer, my primary care physician sent me to see a urologist, who recommended a biopsy. I won’t go into details, but my prostate biopsy was the longest 15 minutes of my life, and I still jump a little when I hear the sound of an air stapler. Twelve tissue samples were sent to a pathology lab, and we waited a long ten days to hear the results. I had little worries. If positive attitude had any power, I would be cleared completely, as I was absolutely certain in my mind that they wouldn’t find anything wrong.
September 19th started out as a really great day. I got an email notification that my new iPhone 7 Plus had shipped, my nephew was getting married on Saturday, my namesake granddaughter was five weeks away from arrival, I called my friend Larry Blomquist to finalize our plans to visit New Orleans for the Falcons/Saints game the next Monday night, and my mortgage broker called with the news that the refinancing loan had been approved! Now we could move forward with building the new barn and realizing my daughter’s lifelong dream. When my urologist called me that afternoon I was expecting good news as well. But the wind in my sails was about to change. When he said, “We found some cancer,” I felt as if I had been kicked in the gut.
Stunned by this news, my wife and I told only our closest friends and family. Still reeling from the shock, we went out to eat that night at a local restaurant where we had enjoyed listening to live music in the past. For a long time, I had wanted to play piano and sing at local venues but I had always had the excuse that I never felt as though I was quite ready or good enough. When we struck up a conversation with the manager, he said that he had no one performing this coming Friday. In my altered state of mind, I thought how ridiculous it was to be scared to try something new. I threw caution to the wind and asked if I could fill in. He agreed, so I played that Friday night. Apparently they liked me enough to ask me back several times and now I am a regular there as well as starting to perform in other places as well.
Here is the taxidermy connection: I have always remembered this part of Mike Boyce’s inspirational and powerful speech when he hosted the 2001 World Show banquet in Illinois. He said most people do not succeed in achieving their dreams simply because of fear. My cancer showed me how all my other superficial fears are so unfounded. As Carrie Underwood sings in “So Small” (my wife’s ringtone), “Sometimes that mountain you’ve been climbing is just a grain of sand.”
The past two months have been an endless parade of doctor visits, oncologists, urologists, cat scans, nuclear bone scans, lab work, consultations, and indecipherable medical bills. After thoroughly researching my treatment options, I decided on brachytherapy followed by radiation. In early November I had 75 radioactive seeds implanted in my prostate. In December and January I will undergo daily external beam radioactive treatments. My prognosis is good, and I hope to be around for many more years to come.
In the two months since that fateful Monday in September, my life has changed in oh so many ways. I am now a cancer survivor, I am a new granddaddy, we are building a new barn, we are putting up fences every weekend, and I have a new career where I am locally known as “Ken the Piano Man”. I am doing something that is giving me joy that I was afraid to try for so many years. My children are great, my family is closer to me then ever before and I get to see them all the time. I have so many blessings in my life that I don’t feel worthy. Even the cancer diagnosis had a silver lining in opening my heart to the possibilities still ahead. On this Thanksgiving 2016, I have so much to be grateful for.