Every day is a gift for man with terminal cancer
- Article by: STEPHANIE DICKRELL
- Associated Press
- June 14, 2014 - 12:05 AM
SAUK RAPIDS, Minn. — Sauk Rapids resident Rory Leeb knocked one more item off his bucket list in May — completing the Old Glory Run 5K in Cold Spring.
The 55-year-old was in a specially designed wheelchair pushed by his daughter Bethany Ramler.
Leeb is more than 15 months into a terminal cancer diagnosis that gave him six to nine months to live. And for Leeb, every day he has now is a gift.
He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer early last year, after ending up in the emergency room with stomach pain. Three chemotherapy treatments later, doctors re-examined Leeb to see if anything had changed.
"The cancer had wrapped around my main artery. And it had actually gotten worse, and so there wasn't anything that could be done," Leeb said.
The diagnosis was terminal.
"It was very devastating for myself. Nobody wants to get told that your life is going to end here, soon. They had told me already back then that I had six to nine months to live. And, so far I've been doing OK," Leeb told the St. Cloud Times (http://on.sctimes.com/SsWzBY).
"That's been a really big blessing, that he's had more time," Ramler said.
"And that's the way I look at it, as a blessing," Leeb said. "Each day, you wake up and thank God for another day."
Five-year survival rates for various stages of pancreatic cancer range from 1 percent to 14 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. The stage Leeb was diagnosed at has a 5 percent five-year survival rate.
"There's so many twists and turns that can happen with cancer, and I'm living proof of that. I shouldn't be here right now," Leeb said.
Rates of pancreatic cancer in the U.S. have slowly been rising since about 2000. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 39,600 deaths in the U.S. will occur from pancreatic cancer in 2014.
It is hard to find pancreatic cancer early, because the pancreas is deep inside the body, and there are no blood or other tests available to detect the cancer early. By the time a person has symptoms, the cancer is usually large and has spread to other organs — the main reason people with this type of cancer often have a poor prognosis.
Healthy living has become a goal for Ramler's entire family, including an interest in running and 5Ks.
"That's kind of a thing we're able to take the whole family with, so that's kind of our go-to exercise," Ramler said.
"I was watching them run over the last year or two, doing that even before I had cancer," Leeb said. "Last summer, I was pretty deep into the cancer ... and it was taking up a lot of my time. ... But we still made a point to come and watch (Bethany) race a little bit.
"I wanted to spend as much time with my kids and grandkids as I could. And that was a way to spend some extra time with Bethany," Leeb said.
"Yeah, to make the memories," Ramler said.
"Now this year, we decided with some help from hospice to go out and run together," Leeb said. "We've been doing a lot of that over the last year and a half — memory making."
A hospice arranged for Leeb to borrow the specialized wheelchair. The father and daughter had about three or four months to get used to the device. Ramler had to adjust to steering, the extra weight and the high profile.
"It's a lot different than pushing my toddler in their jogging stroller," Ramler said. "There's a lot of extra weight, and it's a lot higher than a regular stroller."
Leeb had to get comfortable, too. Luckily, the two didn't have any accidents or spills.
"That was my worst fear — you go around the corner, and there goes Dad," she said.
"Yeah, we'd go pretty slow in the beginning," Leeb said.
The day of the Old Glory Run in Cold Spring, Ramler said she prepared as she did for other 5Ks: with a healthful breakfast and some stretching.
For Leeb, it was a little different: "Lots of clothes," Leeb said.
"Dad was pretty bundled up," Ramler said.
Many of Leeb's family members were at the race to cheer them on. Many onlookers were excited to see them at the race, Ramler said.
"I had someone stop me at the end of the race, and she asked me who I was pushing. I explained to her that it was my dad, and I explained the situation, and she got kind of choked up by it. And she said that I should be really proud," Ramler said. "So that was pretty cool to hear."
Ramler also had a man stop her and tell her he was trying to catch up to her because there were some really big hills, and he wanted to be available to help push the chair if she needed it.
"So that was neat to hear, that there were people that remembered us after the race, that we caught their attention," Ramler said. She did manage the hills on her own, she said.
"It was a neat feeling, coming around that last curve," Leeb said, hearing the cheers of his gathered family. "It really pumped me up. And it made me feel good, too, that there were people that were waiting for us at the finish line."
"I was excited, too," Ramler said, "But I was a little more emotional, in the sense that like, it's done. You know, we anticipated it for so long, and worked up to it, and then, like, it's done. ... (It felt like) something we checked off the list of memories we've been trying to make."
"It was one of the things on my to-do list," Leeb said. "Seriously. It was on my bucket list."
Leeb's list isn't the skydiving, adventurous bucket list of the movies. It's family-oriented.
"The next one is Father's Day. ... After that, I have a granddaughter that turns 1. And I wasn't supposed to live to see her 6 months (old). ... To live this long past that has been a God-given blessing. On July 5, she turns 1. That's my next one. It's a big one for me."
Another item he checked off was recording his voice on books for his kids and grandchildren, with the help of the hospice program. He picked particular books for particular people.
"For example, my wife collects teddy bears, so I knew I had to have a teddy bear book for her," he said.
For the grandchildren, the books were about loving them even when he's not physically there. He's already handed them out.
"I didn't want to wait on those. There's a part of you that wants them to have those right away," Leeb said.
"That was the hardest part, with the cancer, is just knowing that ... you're not going to see your grandkids grow up. And so this was one way for me to be a part of that for them."
Through it all, Leeb said he's kept a positive attitude.
"Some people have a hard time with this, and it takes them down. So I make a point to get their spirits up, joke around, whatever," Leeb said. "I mean, you can go through life happy, or you can go through life sad. And I choose happy."
Leeb's brother died from lung cancer at age 36, 20-some years ago.
"So I had already been through this once, with him," he said. "One of the things that he told me, back then, was that your attitude is everything with this. That keeping a positive attitude is what's going to get you to live longer. And he did. He was only supposed to live three to five months. ... And he ended up living a year and three months. So I just tried to keep his attitude through everything."
"It was kind of funny, too, because you've got your brotherly squabbles and stuff like that. I told everybody that I had to live at least a year and four months because I had to beat my brother. And I have so far."
"He's not going to be real happy with me," he joked.
He said there are still all the day-to-day life things to get through.
"Definitely my faith is there. That has gotten through it, too. ... My faith and my family is the two biggest things. My family has been very supportive," Leeb said. "It's not a time to be selfish."
An AP Member Exchange Feature shared by St. Cloud Times
© 2015 Star Tribune