Losing a childhood friend…

Written by: Marvin Baker

My intent this week was to write about a special restaurant in downtown Bismarck and the people who operate it. However, there is a more pressing issue that needs to be addressed.

Another friend was lost to cancer last week and what appears to be remarkable about his case, is that it could have been preventable.

A family friend from back home, who we called “Soup Bone” when we were kids because he was so skinny, died last week at the age of 62 from kidney cancer that had spread to his lungs.

Kidney cancer spreading to the lungs is exactly what I experienced. But thanks to a persistent public health nurse named Melissa Burud and Mayo Clinic, I was saved. But it could have been much worse.

In fact, a cardiologist in Minot who first diagnosed my small cell renal cell carcinoma, asked me if I had any blood in the urine. I told him no and there wasn’t any pain, no pinching, no buldge in my lower back, nothing like that.

Sometime after the surgery, in a consult with the doctor who removed my kidney, I asked him, what would have happened if there was blood in my urine. “By then, it’s too late,” he told me.

And I suspect that is what happened to “Soup Bone.” I’ll bet he didn’t even know he had cancer until it was too late. I’ll bet the warning signs were so subtle that he wasn’t even aware of what was going on.

But there are signs, there are clues and most of all, those of us on the street don’t know enough about medicine to even make an educated guess. Some little thing will happen to us and we’ll pass it off as an allergy, a nasty cold, a cut that doesn’t want to heal as fast as it should. No matter, we’re aging and our body doesn’t heal as quickly as it used to heal.
The real problem is, we think we are 10 feet tall and bullet proof until we’re not. And my point here today is that as we age, we need to start paying closer attention to our bodies.

In my case, it was chest pain that led to an x-ray that found a spot on my left lung. I could have passed it off as working too hard. I could have taken a break to “catch my breath,” and gone right back to work. Instead, I went to the clinic in Kenmare and the x-ray revealed something I didn’t want to see.

That happened four days before my 59th birthday. By the time you read this article, I will have turned 65. So, in another consult with my doctor at Mayo Clinic last year in June, I asked him what would have happened if I had refused medical attention.
He told me point blank, I’d either be dead or close to it.

That’s why it’s so important to have someone take a closer look at any warning signs. Just two weeks ago, my wife and I were on the beach in Florida and she told me there was a weird looking spot on my back that was dark and irregular. That’s a classic sign of melanoma, and my dad had melanoma. So, as soon as we got back to North Dakota, I made an appointment.
The doctor did a biopsy right in her office to get positive proof of what that spot was. As it turned out, it is called seborrheic keratosis, which is harmless and is caused by aging and damaged skin.

But, it could have been much worse. My dad disregarded the early signs of his melanoma and as he went from his 70s to his 80s, the dermatologic procedures became more frequent to remove the recurring melanoma.

Because of doctor/patient confidentiality, it’s near impossible to get information like this, unless it’s your own and you are volunteering the information. And that’s what I’m doing here.

I’m hoping that anyone who finds those subtle signs that appear to be nothing more than annoying, please get it checked out. I feel terrible about losing my childhood friend “Soup Bone,” whose real name is Joey Brunner. I hope we can all learn something from his passing.

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