Prepping for the journey of a lifetime

By Paul D. Bowker
Posted 1/27/21

The trouble arrived on a Monday night in December.

At The News, Monday night is a deadline night. Stories are edited and finalized. Photographs are selected and edited. Pages are designed.

For …

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Prepping for the journey of a lifetime


The trouble arrived on a Monday night in December.

At The News, Monday night is a deadline night. Stories are edited and finalized. Photographs are selected and edited. Pages are designed.

For me, the work stopped when back pain vaulted into an excruciating level.

Hours later, after driving myself to a hospital in Iowa City, expecting something along the lines of a bone fracture or really bad muscle strain, I heard the awful words from a doctor at 2:30 in the morning: “You may have lung cancer.”

How do you prepare for that?

I carefully protected myself against the lurking danger of COVID-19. I wore a mask regularly. I kept my distance.

Lung cancer?

I don’t smoke.

My heart beat fast as I drove home at 3 in the morning with instructions to call a specialist at 8 in the morning.

Suddenly, high school basketball or a newspaper page wasn’t running my brain. Cancer was.

A terrible word. Cancer.

I went to a third day before I could even talk to anybody about it. And once I did, I was grateful. I have heard nothing but encouraging words and prayers.

And, eventually following some testing, perhaps some of the best words ever from a doctor: “You don’t have lung cancer.”

It is, in fact, lymphoma.

I am ready to fight.

I am ready to fight for a daughter who drove 1,300 miles from Massachusetts to take care of her dad. I am ready to fight for anybody else who has fought this disease.

I have had a lung biopsy, a bone marrow biopsy, a spinal tap, countless CT scans and a full-body PET scan.

The care is world class, no question. I had no idea just how big the University of Iowa hospital campus was until I stepped into its hallways the first time last week. It is a world of its own. I began this journey with incredible care given by the professionals at Mercy.

But until a week ago, I couldn’t move. I was in bed for three weeks, watching the world unfold in front of me on a TV. I saw our democracy almost fall in the Jan. 6 attack on our nation’s capital. I watched COVID-19 numbers get even worse nationwide. And I saw some NFL football.

A new twist of drug prescriptions changed everything.

My mind is actually drifting back now to high school athletics, reconnecting with coaches and picking out some of the big games coming up.

But there is also this journey through the world of lymphoma and the cancer-fighting drugs I am about to have infused into my body.

I am not alone.

Rich Rivera, the head coach of the NFL team in Washington, recently completed a similar journey.

One of my cousins back in Massachusetts was diagnosed with lymphoma seven years ago and is now cancer free. That was a three-hour phone call full of encouragement and memories the other day.

I know there are many others who have also taken this prayer-filled journey.

I want to be at high school events coming up, but I know that I can’t. My immune system wouldn’t handle it. So, I will watch from afar, over the internet.

I can’t even begin to thank my colleagues and my boss, Ron Slechta, enough for their support and thoughts. Ron and Helen Slechta, the owners of The News and Slechta Communications in Kalona, are pure gold. But you already know that.

So, thank you.

I’m thankful even now. I can actually sit down at a laptop computer and type now without pain rising from every corner of my upper body.

The journey has just started. I know that.

I’m ready for it.

And if you have a story to share, I’d love to hear it.

Paul Bowker is sports editor of The News. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @bowkerpaul.


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