Cancer Patient Stories
Daryl Sather’s Story
My name is Daryl Sather and I’m a 63-year-old small grains farmer who lives north of Havre, Montana, near the Canadian border. I have been a survivor of non-Hodgkins lymphoma since June 2008. I have traveled more than five hours each way to Billings Clinic in Billings, Montana, multiple times for my diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapies and follow-up care.
My wife, Rosalie, and I have 3,000 acres on two farms about eight miles apart. As a farmer, I describe my cancer experience as something like driving a tractor in the field: it wasn’t very smooth and I had a lot of ups and downs. I see a big back tire with a giant “C” in the center. That’s Cancer and my fear of cancer and the unknown. At first it felt like the wheel wasn’t moving, but then with a push from family and friends I started moving past the fear and moving forward. Faith, my family and friends kept pushing me forward when I got stuck.
There were times when the family kept things moving and there were times when friends kept me going. Then there were time when all I had was my faith, looking like a three sided tire, not a big round one.
The smaller front tire included the Billings Clinic Cancer Center team — the other people who kept me moving through cancer treatments and survivorship. I see the Billings Clinic Cancer Center as the body of the tractor, then the front tire was the team of my doctors, nurses, social workers and other caregivers who kept me headed in the right direction of my journey. In the driver’s seat of the cab was the cancer patient care navigator, making sure I saw the right doctors, scheduling my appointments in the right order on the same day since I had to drive so far to Billings. She was at the controls of the tractor monitoring all the things that kept the tractor running.
And last but not least is the engine — that’s me. I see the engine as a Positive Attitude! I see this tractor as pulling me through this experience like a tractor pulls equipment through the field. Often the tractor was taking me in a direction that I didn’t understand, but because I had such a good tractor (Cancer Center) I knew I was heading in the right direction.
I found out about my cancer in the summer of 2008. One day in early May I felt like I had swallowed a bug when I was out on my four-wheeler. I kept coughing to try to get this bug out. Then I felt swelling in my tonsils like I had a bee sting. But I had to get my fields seeded before the end of May and it was a really busy time. The feeling didn’t go away, it got worse and I was tired all the time. In early June I decided to go to the doctor in Havre on a Friday afternoon. I ended up in the ER getting a CAT scan. By Monday morning my wife and I were in Billings seeing the ear, nose and throat specialist, Dr. Horrell. That same day he got me in for emergency surgery and all of our plans came to a halt.
I went home in a couple days. But on Friday afternoon they called and said there was something wrong with my biopsy and my blood. So we had to go back to Billings for an appointment on Monday morning to see Dr. Horrell. He wanted me to go see a cancer specialist, Dr. Nieva, that same day and got me in right away. That was when I first heard the word “CANCER” and not much else after. After lots of tests, bloodwork, PET scans… my diagnosis was non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
My first thought was, “How do we tell our kids?”
I was filled with fear at first with all the unknowns, but then fear faded away. Everyone I had ever known who had cancer had died. But eventually I had a positive attitude — my engine starting running again and the tractor started moving along. Having faith and a positive attitude was the driving force that helped me beat it.
One of the most heartwarming things that happened during my cancer treatments was the help my neighbors gave me. I could only work a couple of hours a day that summer while I was getting chemotherapy. I was worn out. My wife works in Havre full time and our kids are grown up and have their own jobs and families.
One day in late August our winter wheat was ready to cut and I was exhausted. One of my neighbors, who was busy with his own farming, called to ask if he could come over and combine (cut the wheat) for me. I said yes and soon after, we had nine neighbors with seven combines and three trucks working in my fields. I just turned it over to them. My wife Rosalie provided meals and cold drinks as the day of harvesting went along. They finished harvesting most of the farm in only one day. Amazing! I was able to drive to Billings for my radiation treatments a couple days later without worrying about my harvest.
We love our wide open spaces and the outdoors. That’s why we live here. I think we need to find ways around the distance from patient to doctor so it’s not a problem for cancer care and recovery in rural areas. Distance should not be a factor that keeps rural patients from getting good care.
I live 330 miles north of Billings, so I have utilized telemedicine and e-mail as part of my care. I have been able to talk to my medical oncologist, Dr. Jorge Nieva, over the Eastern Montana Telemedicine Network (EMTN).
When I needed a blood test reviewed following a round of chemotherapy I received in Billings, I received the blood test in Havre, then talked to Dr. Nieva in a private videoconference over EMTN at the hospital. Dr. Nieva talked to me about my results, then he told me that he had just defended my case to eight other oncologists that morning. I thought that was cool and said “Now I don’t have to ask all the questions if the other docs already did.” It just made me feel better to hear him say that they had all talked about my care as a group.
I have attended survivorship programs via telemedicine as well. When I finished my treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, I felt lost and didn’t know what was going to happen next. A couple of months later, I registered for Billings Clinic’s series of nine cancer survivorship classes at a telemedicine site 30 miles from my home. Now I am attending Billings Clinic’s new weekly cancer support group offered on telemedicine.
After talking to other survivors during the Partners in Survivorship classes, I realized that I wasn’t the only person who couldn’t remember anything — due to ‘chemo brain’ — they helped me to understand where I was with my recovery. I took on a larger family who knew what I had been through.
Since then I started an e-mail support group for rural patients I met over telemedicine, called the Can-sur-vivor group. Starting in May 2010, the Triangle Telephone Co-op / Hill County Electric Office Building in Havre is now providing their teleconference room free of charge for other rural patients and I to take part in the cancer support group meetings broadcast from Billings Clinic.
I still question why I survived cancer when many don’t. It’s becoming clearer each day that it was to help and give hope to others as they are pulled through this experience by all of the things that I have mentioned in my story. I keep my tractor moving by offering support and advice to others during support group meetings and just talking to neighbors and friends who are affected by cancer. I’m an advocate for Billings Clinic. I tell other cancer patients that they have the right to expect excellent care.