Let’s get one thing straight: If Steve Buttry Cancer 2.0 doesn’t come out the way I’m hoping, I don’t want anyone saying I “lost a battle” with cancer. I kicked cancer’s ass back in 1999 and lived a wonderful 15-plus years since my first diagnosis. If my second round doesn’t end as well, I still won.
Cancer 1.0 was in my colon. We caught it early, the surgeon sliced it out and life went on. A second surgery in 2006 cost me another section of colon, as well as my appendix and a bunch of nearby lymph nodes. The lumps in the appendix and lymph nodes that prompted the surgery were benign, and life went on again.
I also had microsurgery in 2005 to remove a basal-cell skin cancer. Call it Cancer 1.1. Not as big a deal as colon cancer, but again, an ass-kicking. Also possibly an indication that I’m fertile soil for tumors.
I’ve lived more than a quarter of my life since the first diagnosis. By the 10th anniversary of the surgery, I was so cancer-free I didn’t even notice the milestone until a few days after it had passed. I won’t say that a semicolon works as well as the full colon, but it didn’t keep me from enjoying life.
I’ve felt more than the usual aches and pains lately, but they raised no concerns initially. I thought a few creaks were part of middle age. Two or three ibuprofen usually kept discomfort at bay. Nov. 14, a Friday afternoon, I came home from work early, complaining of a sharper pain in my back. When the pain was still strong that Saturday, Mimi took me to an urgent care clinic. The doctor there suspected a kidney stone and also diagnosed diabetes. He said I needed to get a CT scan and follow up Monday with my regular doctor. I hadn’t yet visited a Baton Rouge doctor (I had an appointment in December for my physical and planned to set up my next colonoscopy then), but the urgent care doc said I’d be able to get in Monday with an internist at the nearby clinic.
When I was showering that Sunday, I notice swelling under my left armpit. I was unsure whether that was a new development or something I was just now noticing, with greater awareness of my flawed body. I showed the swelling to the doctor the next day. That concerned her more than the diabetes or the possible kidney stone.
I now have a bunch of Baton Rouge docs and they ran a bunch of tests: blood, urine, CT, EKG, colonoscopy, two biopsies. The results: Cancer 2.0. No kidney stone, though.
This cancer is mantle-cell lymphoma, a rare non-Hodgkins cancer that, according to the Lymphoma Research Foundation, most often affects men over the age of 60. I turned 60 in October, about when the first aches were appearing. (More on the name of my disease over on the Hated Yankees blog.)
I have more tests to go and won’t know the exact course of treatment until next week. But I’ll be starting chemotherapy soon, probably later this month. The oncologist and I are confident of successful treatment and a return to good health.
But I keep in touch with a lot of friends here, so I wanted to give you this news. I will continue to write about journalism issues here, though my treatment might affect how often I blog. I might post links to some important Caring Bridge updates here, but otherwise I’ll keep this mostly about journalism, as it has always been.
But back to Cancer 2.0. My doctors and I expect me to beat this. But obviously I’m aware of the other possibility. If my death certificate someday lists cancer (whether it’s this lymphoma or something else that becomes 3.0) under “cause,” that’s just a late touchdown to keep me from running up the score.
Here’s some of what I’ve done since I kicked cancer’s ass 15 years ago:
I celebrated my sons’ graduations from Creighton and Marquette Universities (and Tom’s graduation from Mt. Michael Benedictine High School).
I toasted Mike and Joe’s marriages to wonderful women (I’m working on my toast for Tom’s wedding to another wonderful woman next October).
I welcomed two granddaughters to the family (girls finally outnumber the boys) and I’ve watched them grow from darling babies into enchanting little girls. I’ve played with them, sung to them, read to them and taken way too many photos of them (Grandpaparazzi!).
I celebrated my 40th wedding anniversary with Mimi (we learned that first diagnosis days after our 25th). That’s more than 5,000 extra days we had together, and I cherish every one. Any strength I might have shown in the face of cancer in 1999 or now is rooted in Mimi. Her faith and determination and humor have carried me through many a weary day.
Mimi and I found our favorite place in the world, Tofino, on the Pacific shore of Vancouver Island, and we’ve visited there six or seven times, enjoying the starfish, the whales, the bears, the fish tacos and the wild Pacific waves crashing on Cox Beach.
I made more than 30 trips to Canada, visiting every province but Newfoundland-Labrador and enjoying the vibrant cities, majestic mountains and lovely lighthouses of that charming country.
Mimi and I visited the canyons, arches, goblins and mountains of Utah, the redwoods, beaches, Lake Tahoe, Hearst Castle and San Francisco Bay in California (yeah, Disneyland, too), Carlsbad Caverns, the Grand Canyon, Royal Gorge, Gettysburg (half a dozen times), Antietam and News York, Orleans and Haven. My Iowa-farm-girl bride loves the ocean, and I was able to take her to enjoy the Pacific Coast from Anchorage to Oceanside and the Atlantic from Cape Breton to Key Largo.
Mimi and I shivered together in the Siberian winter, cruised Venice in a gondola, straddled the equator, climbed a Mexican pyramid, marveled at the David, rode trains through the Alps, wandered Roman ruins and viewed Gutenberg Bibles. I went to Saudi Arabia without Mimi, shopping in a Riyadh market, staying in a luxury hotel and visiting Saudi newsrooms.
We enjoyed day and weekend trips to the Field of Dreams and other locations around Eastern Iowa; Chincoteague Island, Shenandoah National Park, Monticello and other locations around Washington and a pleasant weekend getaway to Acadiana while awaiting my second cancer diagnosis.
Mimi and I visited our nation’s spectacular capital dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. We walked across the Memorial Bridge together; we walked around the Tidal Basin and visited the Jefferson Memorial in cherry-blossom season; we visited memorials to Lincoln, both Roosevelts, King and the veterans of World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam, as well as the Air Force and Iwo Jima memorials. We toured the Capitol, White House and Mount Vernon. We marveled at the view of Washington from Kennedy’s grave and squinted at his eternal flame from the back of the Lincoln Memorial. We browsed the Newseum, National Museum of the American Indian, National Museum of American History, National Gallery of Art, National Zoo, Spy Museum (we saw a Supreme Court justice getting dinner in the cafe there) and both Air and Space Museums. We laughed at the comedy of Bill Maher and Jon Stewart in their Washington visits. We stood in line five hours to pay respects to Rosa Parks in the Capitol Rotunda (and a couple hours for Jerry Ford).
We visited Mike and Tom in their offices on Capitol Hill and Mike’s office in Minneapolis. We walked the catwalks high above the floor of the Mandalay Bay Events Center as Joe gave us a tour of his workplace.
We listened to an ovation for a set change that Joe orchestrated in his senior project at Creighton as technical director for “The Taming of the Shrew.” We watched Mike on “K Street” working for Sen. Chuck Hagel and on CNN discussing Hagel’s nomination as Secretary of Defense. We celebrated with Tom the Nobel Peace Prize for Kailash Satyarthi, based on a nomination Tom helped prepare for his boss, Sen. Tom Harkin.
We saw pictures and heard tales from Tom’s trips to Algeria, Ghana and Slovenia and cruises to various exotic destinations by Mike and Susie and Joe and Kim. We toasted Susie’s master’s degree and the launch of Joe and Kim’s business, Moxie Event Lighting.
We enjoyed Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel and the Everly Brothers in concerts in Omaha and productions of “Wicked” at the Kennedy Center and “Spamalot” in Las Vegas.
I started six new jobs: the Omaha World-Herald, American Press Institute, Cedar Rapids Gazette, TBD, Digital First Media and Louisiana State University. Each place I made cherished friendships, mastered new professional challenges and grew as a journalist and teacher.
I trained thousands of journalists, media executives and journalism professors at more than 400 newsrooms, conferences and seminars around the world.
I taught hundreds more journalism students as the Lamar Family Visiting Scholar at LSU, an adjunct professor at the University of Iowa and Gerorgetown and American Universities and a visiting speaker or panelist at more than 50 other colleges and universities.
I had never blogged or tweeted when I got my first cancer diagnosis. Now I’ve blogged more than a thousand times, tweeted more than 50,000 and I’m known in journalism more for blogging and tweeting than anything I did in my pre-cancer career.
I received the highest honors of my journalism career: Editor of the Year and TCU’s Journalism Hall of Excellence. My colleagues at the Gazette and TBD won two of journalism’s most important awards, a Sigma Delta Chi Award for breaking news coverage and an Edward R. Murrow Award for local online news coverage. I ran a monthly and annual awards program honoring the best work of my DFM colleagues.
I watched my Yankees play in both Yankee Stadiums as well as in five other ballparks, and watched other teams play in 15 more parks. I also saw my Kansas City Chiefs play (always with one or more of my sons) in four stadiums. And Mimi and I watched our Creighton Bluejays play dozens of basketball games in Omaha, St. Louis and Fairfax, Va.
Mimi and I visited and gathered with family in Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Washington (D.C.), West Virginia, Wisconsin, British Columbia and Switzerland. We attended more family gatherings than I can count: weddings, holidays, reunions, adventures, happened-to-be-in-town dinners.
We also gathered for two funerals for nephews who died too young. Tragic as those gatherings were, I’m glad I was around to hold my family tight and to honor both nephews. Part of living is sharing the loss of loved ones, and I am grateful that I was able to visit Patrick on his deathbed and to salute Brandon as the military brought his body back from Afghanistan.
Mimi and I presided at the wedding of our niece, Meg, and her husband, David.
My brothers and sons gathered in 2006 to watch the Super Bowl, two generations of Buttry brothers having fun together. (I think they might have been worried about that 2006 surgery, which came later that month.)
I received a gift from my father nearly 36 years after his death.
I heard my brother Don preach in the same church where Dad preached in the 1970s. I also heard my granddaughters sing, glaciers calve and a wolf howl.
I reconnected in person or on Facebook with cousins, classmates and friends I had not seen in decades. I made dozens, perhaps hundreds, of new friends through Twitter and this blog.
I saw orcas in Clayoquot Sound, manatees in Tampa Bay, a humpback whale off Virginia Beach, dolphins frolicking in the surf of North Carolina’s Outer Banks and wolves, grizzly bears, moose, caribou and Dall sheep in Denali National Park.
Mimi and I canoed Key Largo, kayaked the Root River and Salmon Creek and rafted the whitewater rapids of the New River (rumor has it we were tossed from the raft, but there is no photographic or video proof of that). We cruised the Gulf of Mexico, Potomac River, St. Croix River, Lake Coeur d’Alene and at least a dozen other bodies of water.
I helped my mother into her twilight, visiting as often as I could as she has slipped into the fog of Alzheimer’s.
This year I made it to Alaska, my 50th state, with our sons and their families, who gave us the trip as a gift. The glaciers, wildlife and family time were a highlight of my 60 years, right up there with the boys’ births and weddings and our own wedding.
I took my sons to a Kansas City Royals World Series game. Would it be too much to hope for a Chiefs’ Super Bowl?
That, friends, is my bucket list. My bucket runneth over. Whatever else comes is bonus. I will grab that bonus with relish. I’m planning to dance at Tom and Ashley’s wedding next year and maybe at Julia and Madeline’s many years from now.
But if this round of cancer doesn’t go as well as the first one, I’m good to go.