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Posts Tagged ‘Cancer’

2016 has been an outstanding year for Mimi and me.

We’ve had our disappointments, and they may be our biggest news of the year. We’ll get to them in due time.

But we regard this as an outstanding year for a whole lot of reasons. (We’re talking about the personal level here, setting aside the train wreck that was the 2016 election.) And we’re not going to let those disappointments get in the way of celebrating 2016 as it draws to a close. Some great things that happened this year:

Madeline and Julia enjoyed an Easter egg hunt in our home.

Madeline and Julia enjoyed an Easter egg hunt in our home.

Our granddaughters, Julia and Madeline, visited us along with their parents for Easter (we have a ceramic pitcher on a shelf still with a pink plastic egg resting in its head, remaining from the Easter fun; Granny and Gramps found it a few weeks after Easter and leave it there just for the smiles it brings). We visited Mike, Susie and the girls (and Joe and Kim visiting from Las Vegas) in the Twin Cities in early August, right after our 42nd wedding anniversary. Then Julia and Madeline came with their parents for another visit in early December. And we’ll be visiting them again for Christmas. What could be better than four visits with the granddaughters in a year? (Well, five, but four visits make for an outstanding year.)

Mike, left, me, Joe and Tom at Kaufmann Stadium in June.

Mike, left, me, Joe and Tom at Kaufmann Stadium in June.

We had more than 10 visits with one, two or all three of our sons. The boys and I met in Kansas City for a weekend of baseball and barbecue in June (and I managed to see both of my brothers, Mom and some friends on that trip). Mimi and I went to Washington for Thanksgiving with Tom and Ashley, with Joe and Kim joining the fun again from Vegas. And earlier in November, Tom and Ashley came down to Lexington, Va., to join me for a weekend with niece Kate and Mark Prylow and their children, when I was speaking at Washington and Lee University. Plus we had solo visits (including Joe and Kim surprising me with a visit in Baton Rouge for my birthday and Mike taking me to my first New Orleans Saints game).

We had more family visits this year, too: Mimi visited her sister, Carol, in Jacksonville, Fla., and my brother, Dan, visited us last week in Baton Rouge. My travels (more on that later) allowed me to squeeze in dinners with three of Mimi’s siblings and others family members in Iowa, Florida and Ohio. And more family visits are coming in January: my sister, Carol, and her family, and all four of Mimi’s siblings with their spouses.

Professionally, this was a wonderful year for me. The Online News Association surprised me at its awards dinner in Denver with the Rich Jaroslovsky Founder Award. Friend Jim Brady (who was in on the surprise) was waiting at the next table and caught the moment on video. If you want to watch me blubbering my ­gratitude, go to the 50-minute mark on the video of the Online Journalism Awards. I’ll repeat more succinctly here my profound thanks to the ONA board for this career highlight. In reading about the award later, I learned that my friend Dori Maynard won the award posthumously in 2015. I am delighted to have my name associated with Dori’s and Rich’s in this way.

And just last week, I learned of another honor: I will receive the Chairman’s Citation at the National Press Foundation awards dinner in February in Washington. Chairman Kevin Goldberg chose me for the award. Again, I am deeply grateful, both for the award and for the kind praise from many after it was announced.

Another professional delight­ came in feedback from a source about a story I wrote in 1996. The source, Bridget Hegarty, actually provided the feedback in 2015, through a Facebook message on Christmas Eve, when I was still hospitalized, recovering from my stem-cell transplant. She told me that my story “helped give what happened to me a voice. It was a voice that I can now use, and do use every day of my life. You gave my voice confidence and reassurance when I thought that part of me was gone forever.” That was as strong an affirmation of my work as a journalist as I have ever received from a source. I include it in the 2016 highlights because I went back to Omaha in February for a follow-up interview and wrote a story about the experience for the Columbia Journalism Review. And Bridget gave me a shout-out last week at her graduation from nursing school.

The blanket Patricia Maris gave me.

The blanket Patricia Maris gave me.

Another touching experience relating to feedback on my writing came in October, when I received a gift from Pat Maris, the widow of Roger Maris. I have written repeatedly for years about why Maris belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. And this fall, I learned that a grandson of Maris is in a colleague’s writing class at LSU. I shared some links to my blog posts with the grandson, and he shared them with his grandmother. And she sent me a blanket from Maris’ celebrity golf tournament. Of course, I blogged about it.

buttry-by-duffyStill another highlight of the year was when Brian Duffy, my former Des Moines Register colleague and favorite editorial cartoonist, drew me for my birthday, based on my Heisenberg Twitter avatar. It has become my social media avatar and the original hangs on our dining room wall.

I didn’t blog as much as usual this year, because I’ve been writing letters to our sons. But my post on the newspaper industry’s defensive digital strategy created a bit of a ripple, drawing attention from the Poynter Institute, Carrie Brown-Smith, Guy Lucas, Dan Kennedy, Dan Rowinski, Tom Grubisch, Lee Procida and lots of journalists on social media. I wrote a few other posts of note during the year, wondering for The Hill about Hillary Clinton’s birthday wish list (we share a birthday) and sharing tips for localizing national and world news for the National Press Foundation.

One of my favorite writing projects for the year was a LifePost timeline about my father, Luke Buttry, who died in 1978. The project was an effort to share Dad’s story with the many grandchildren who have no memories of him (and provide a refresher for those of us with fond memories). My great-nephew (and Dad’s great-grandson) Keaton Poulter died in February at age 7, and I memorialized his short life in a Lifepost, too.

sailorsMimi had a productive year in writing and with the needle. She got a good freelance gig for much of the year, writing questions for the weekly news quiz that was part of Reuters’ White House Run app. She also continued the needlepoint hobby that helped her get through a trying 2015. Her “Expert sailors aren’t made on calm seas” hangs above my desk.

2016 was a good year at LSU’s Student Media, too. Student initiatives helped lead us further and faster toward a digital-first operation than I could possibly have led our students on my own. Students proposed combining our print, TV and digital operations into a single newsroom this fall and switching from a daily newspaper to a 32-page weekly, with a ramped-up digital newsroom, in the coming spring semester. The students are making great progress and plans, and we’re excited about the spring semester.

I also collaborated in the planning and presentation of Just the Facts, an American Press Institute fact-checking boot camp at LSU. In a year when facts seemed to matter so little in the presidential election, I was pleased to be swimming against the tide, exhorting journalists to check the facts and call BS on politicians and others in power. And, as an old API hand, I enjoyed collaborating with the current version of that important organization.

Chemotherapy curtailed all of my travel in 2015, except for Tom’s wedding and some Louisiana day trips. But I was free to travel extensively in 2016, free from chemo for part of the year and later taking chemo that didn’t make me as vulnerable to infections as my 2015 drugs. So I traveled. I was a keynote speaker at the Future of Student Media Summit at Ohio University in April and an ethics fellow at the 62nd Journalism Ethics Institute at Washington and Lee University in November. I spoke on panels or simply attended journalism conferences in New Orleans, Gainesville, Fla., Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, in addition to ONA. I returned to TCU, my alma mater, in a faculty exchange with Steve Myers, who spoke at LSU. I flew to St. Petersburg, Fla., to lead a day of workshops for The Penny Hoarder.

A great benefit of the travel was that I had breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks or just hallway conversations with dozens, if not hundreds, of new and old friends at the various conferences and other travels. I won’t try to name you all here (because of the certainties that I’d overlook some and that I’d bore everyone not listed). But those conversations and hugs raised my spirits again and again throughout the year. I am more grateful than I can say for my many friends and the support you have provided.

A year packed with that much joy is a terrific year, even if some heartbreak came along, too.

My two visits of the year to Mom in Kansas City were difficult. Alzheimer’s has taken not only her memory, but most of her awareness of life around her. When I visited in February, she didn’t even know I was family. Four visits over two days in June showed her in a different mental state each time, never recognizing me but a couple of times understanding that family members were visiting. She still enjoys music, even if she can no longer sing lyrics. One special moment of recognition involving my brother Don showed us that occasionally some understanding cuts through her mental fog. My older brother, Dan, visited in December for her 90th birthday and reports that on a few occasions she seemed to understand and appreciate that her Cubs finally won the World Series this year.

Again, cancer brought the year’s greatest heartbreaks.

Mimi and I enjoyed dinner in Denver with Meg and Dave.

Mimi and I enjoyed dinner in Denver with Meg and Dave.

We wept over the breast cancer diagnosis of our niece and goddaughter, Meg Winter. Mimi and I were honored to preside at Meg’s wedding to Dave Winter in Colorado in 2012. Her diagnosis came shortly before ONA this year, so we were able to share hugs and dinner in Denver in September. Meg is enduring the ups and downs of chemo now, and we wish we could be there to continue supporting her in person.

And, as you may know, I had another major cancer diagnosis myself in July. This pancreatic cancer is unrelated to either of my earlier major cancers, colon cancer in 1999 and mantle-cell lymphoma in 2014-15. An edited version of my blog post about Cancer 3.0 ran on the health-care site STAT. After a few months of chemotherapy, we learned in November that the tumor is chemo-resistant. It’s growing and has spread to my liver. When I decided to stop treatment, my friend, Matt DeRienzo wrote a nice post about the Tao of Steve Buttry. I’ve been honored by lots of kind comments from friends, family and other journalists throughout my struggles with these diseases.

Cancer treatment (and the end of treatment) are tougher on a spouse than on a patient, and Mimi has been a powerful source of support and comfort through this all. Whatever lies ahead, we’re facing it together and I have the help I need. We’ve exhausted the treatment possibilities, so now I’ll just enjoy as much life as I have left, savoring every day, even the tough ones. Because I’ve seen this year that a lot of wonderful things happen even in tough times.

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Cancer 3.0

Mimi and me at Tom's wedding last October

Mimi and me at Tom’s wedding last October

Shaking the sugar down on my way to Houston

Shaking the sugar down on my way to Houston

Tom spent the Fourth of July posting photos from his wedding last October to Facebook. I liked a photo of Mimi and me together on that happy day, so I made it my profile photo. More than 200 people “liked” it and another 20-plus commented, all encouraging messages. Several noted that I looked good. I was tempted to note that the photo was from last October. But I got some similar comments about looking good when I posted some photos from the road that same day on the way to Houston.

I do look good. I don’t say that boastfully, but kind of ruefully. I look (and feel) better than my news: I was at the MD Anderson Cancer Center last week getting my third major cancer diagnosis. This time I have pancreatic cancer.

I was honored and uplifted by how many people encouraged me during last year’s treatment for mantle-cell lymphoma. If you were heartened in some way by my kicking-cancer’s-ass narrative, please know that I did kick that cancer’s ass. My lymph nodes look great, and they’ve gotten a close look the last three-plus months in a PET scan, an MRI, two CT scans, two endoscopic ultrasounds and lots of lab tests as doctors have tried to figure out what the hell was going on in my pancreas. (more…)

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Our family gathered for the wedding, first time we were all together since Thanksgiving.

Our family gathered for the wedding, first time we were all together since Thanksgiving. Photo by Dan Buttry

Last December, when I announced my lymphoma diagnosis on this blog, I promised I would be dancing at the Oct. 10 wedding of my youngest son, Tom, and Ashley Douglass.

At that time, my hope and plan was that I would be finished with treatment by then. I needed to wait a minimum of 21 days between each of eight rounds of chemotherapy (which would damage my immune system). Then they would harvest some stem cells from me, and then I’d get them back in a stem-cell transplant that would restore my immune system. Treatment started Dec. 20 (Mimi’s birthday), so I marked all my rounds of treatment on the calendar and figured we’d finish by late June.

Well, marriage is way better than chemo (at least mine has been), so don’t take this metaphor any further than this point: In both cases, you really don’t know what’s going to unfold when you start out.

If you haven’t already read about all the delays and complications of my treatment on my CaringBridge journal, you can find details there, if you care. But they involve low platelet counts, an infection, meningitis, a weak stem-cell harvest and a brain surgery. The only thing that worked out as planned was that chemo kicked cancer’s ass. A May PET scan showed “no active disease,” so that listing of delays is not a complaint (well, not much), but an explanation that for a while we weren’t sure whether I would make it to the wedding. (more…)

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My chemotherapy has included strong doses of oral steroids the last four days, followed by interrupted sleep each night.

I fell asleep about 11 last night, after a couple days of watching, reading and listening to lots of tributes to the late Stuart Scott. I was back awake sometime after 2. Trying unsuccessfully to get to back sleep, flashes of his ESPY speech last night looped through in my memory:

These were the words that echoed in my head, eventually pulling me from the bed and toward the computer:

“When you die, that does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.”

In a Nov. 25 blog post, when I did not have my official diagnosis yet, but knew my body was filled with lumps that didn’t look good on the first scan, I wrote about different types of plagiarism. Here’s what I wrote about the origins of ideas:

The group that was writing Telling the Truth and Nothing But discussed whether theft of ideas was plagiarism. We decided it wasn’t but stated in the book that you should credit ideas that clearly influence your work:

Journalists should attribute the original, distinctive or seminal ideas of others when the ideas form a substantial basis for their own work.

Some ideas lead directly to other stories: You read a good story from another community and decide if the same thing is happening here and produce a story that’s entirely original in its content, but inspired by someone else. That story might not even have a place to smoothly attribute the idea. But you can include a “related link” to the original story. Perhaps you credit with a “hat tip” in social media or send the reporter an email, thanking her for the inspiration.

Other inspiration is more indirect. You see a story in other media and admire the story. You may think you should do something like that someday, but you don’t start working on your version yet. And when you do start your version, you may or may not remember the source(s) of your inspiration. Or maybe you don’t plan to do your version, but later events on your beat prompt you to do a similar story. You take the same approach, but you may not even remember where you got the idea. You may genuinely think it was your own.

I didn’t watch the ESPYs live last July, but I do think I heard the full Scott clip, and certainly the full speech, over the next few days. I don’t recall clearly thinking about the speech at all when, in November, I was also working on the early drafts of the post where I announced my second cancer diagnosis.

My post included these passages below, an echo/inspiration of Stuart Scott that I freely credit now:

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. …

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.

The rest of the post recounted at some length highlights of the 15 years since my 1999 diagnosis and surgery for colon cancer: how I’ve lived since cancer.

Though I chose my own words and don’t remember any direct inspiration from Scott when I was writing and editing that, the shared themes of beating cancer, but recognizing that you might die from it eventually, are clear. That speech touched me in July, when my latest cancer probably was growing but not yet detected, and some thread of inspiration doubtless remained somewhere in my writer’s memory as I tried to articulate my own new experience. (more…)

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Yesterday’s post about my lymphoma diagnosis has brought a lot of messages by email and social media, assuring me that I am in people’s prayers.

The response reminds me of the first time I had cancer, in 1999, when I was religion editor at the Des Moines Register. That job, of course, entailed working with a lot of religious people. Add the fact that I’m a son of two clergy, brother of two more and other kind of kin to still more and related to many lay people of faith. Then and now, I’ve been surrounded and uplifted by people’s prayers.

I didn’t have a blog then, but I wrote a weekly column. This is my column from the Saturday after my surgery to remove colon cancer in 1999:

Before I knew I had cancer, people were praying for my recovery.

I was on the road the day we would get my biopsy results. We didn’t expect bad news, so I didn’t change plans. My wife, Mimi, got the news over the phone while she was at work: The polyp in my colon was malignant. I would need surgery to remove it and part of my colon.

Stunned, she told friends in her office at Creighton University, and the prayer campaign on my behalf began. A while later, I called her and got the shocking news.

As we told family, friends and colleagues, the word spread and more and more pleas went heavenward on my behalf, many from people I barely know, if at all.

Prayer chains at churches in at least five states took up my case. So did Jesuits at Creighton, monks at the abbey where my youngest son goes to school and teachers, staff and students at Holy Trinity School in Des Moines, where my sister-in-law is the media specialist. As I canceled interviews and changed plans, pastors, bishops and other sources said they would pray as well. Jaded journalists who, I figured, invoked the Lord’s name only in vain assured me sincerely that I was in their prayers.

I’ll be honest. When it comes to the physical healing power of prayer, I fall somewhere between enthusiast and skeptic. I’ve prayed for relatives and friends who recovered and prayed just as hard for others who died.

Keep the prayers coming, I figured, but just in case, I’d get a good doctor and get this thing sliced out.

After all, cancer killed my father and Mimi’s mother, and no one prayed more fervently than those two people. They had more people storming the heavens on their behalf than I could ever hope to muster.

I know of people who claim miraculous healing and credit it all to prayer. I also know people who tell of miraculous recoveries and don’t mention prayer at all. (When you have cancer, you hear a lot of cancer stories.)

If a cancer does or doesn’t spread, does or doesn’t return, we don’t truly know how much credit, if any, prayer should share with surgical skill, powerful chemicals, radiation, diet, quackery and other measures we invoke against this frightening disease. Heck, I gladly accepted a four-leaf clover Mimi found at a picnic.

In the past few weeks, though, I’ve learned something about the power of prayer. Regardless of what happens inside your body, prayer is a wonderful gift. A gift with healing power.

It’s too soon to say whether prayer or anything else will heal my colon, though we’re hopeful. As you read this, I’m home, recovering from surgery on Monday. The surgery was successful, and tests showed the cancer was contained to the colon.

But the cancer invaded more than my colon. It attacked my enthusiasm, my vigor, my sense of humor, my sense of hope. Fear, anger and doubt tried to shout down every encouraging word I wanted to utter, every wisecrack, each expression of hope.

For fear, anger and doubt, I can attest, prayer has miraculous healing power. Each assurance that someone was praying for me lifted my spirits, restoring a bit of hope or humor. Did the healing come from some divine power? Or was it just the soothing effect of sympathy? I don’t know. And I don’t much care.

Each prayer is a personal gift. In intimate conversations with their Lord, people are offering my burden as their own.

And with each prayer, the burden grows a little lighter.

The details are different now. But I’m as grateful now as I was then.

After posting yesterday about cancer, I was uplifted by reverent assurances of prayer, irreverent cheering that I’d kick cancer’s ass and a vulgar but touching anti-cancer hashtag (thanks, @jeffjarvis!). In phone calls and in person, in public and personal messages on Facebook and Twitter (see the sampling of tweets below), comments on my blog, comments on Caring Bridge, text messages, emails and even a couple LinkedIn messages, friends, family and strangers have provided balm that I am sure is as powerful in its own way as the chemotherapy will be.

Thank you!












Final note: Yeah, I know I said I’d do my cancer updates on my Caring Bridge page, and I will. But I’ve posted and updated old stories here quite a bit, so I decided to do this one here, too.

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Our family has doubled in size since my first cancer diagnosis.

Our family has doubled in size since my first cancer diagnosis.

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. (more…)

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My family’s connection to and interest in ABC’s Robin Roberts continues and deepens.

Robin Roberts

When my niece, Mandy Poulter, and her husband, Matt, were wondering about the safety of their adopted daughter, Maya, at a Haitian orphanage following the 2010 earthquake, Roberts found Maya alive and safe and relayed the news to Mandy through Skype. A few days later, with some assistance from Roberts’ ABC colleagues, Mandy and Matt brought Maya home. (She’s doing great now, and Roberts has done some follow-up coverage.)

And any cancer survivor feels a connection of sorts to the people you meet or people in the public eye who battle cancer. I had surgery for colon cancer in 1999 and for basal cell skin cancer in 2005, so I was pulling for Roberts to beat breast cancer when she was diagnosed and treated in 2007 for breast cancer. But that’s a connection we share with some 12 million people.

Our latest connection is a much rarer health challenge. Roberts announced yesterday that she has Myelodysplastic Syndrome, diagnosed in 18,000 Americans a year. MDS is a group of blood disorders, so I don’t know that her disease is identical to the MDS my niece, Kat Devlin, was treated for last year, but in both cases, it was described as a possible precursor to leukemia. Beyond their age difference, Roberts’ MDS appears to have been caused by her cancer treatment. Doctors were studying a possible genetic tie in Kat’s case (her only sibling, Patrick, died of leukemia in 2009).

The treatment is similar. Roberts will receive a bone marrow transplant from her sister. Doctors could not find a suitable bone marrow donor for Kat, so she underwent a stem-cell transplant. Roberts’ treatment is not described to be as extreme and grueling as Kat’s or Patrick’s. They both spent months in hospitals, then months quarantined at home.

Kat is doing great now. She’s just finished her first year of high school, including track and field competition. I look forward to updates about Roberts’ successful recovery. We want her story to turn out as happily as Maya’s and Kat’s have.

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