On a country road outside of Palmer, pink ribbons are looped through the bars of a metal gate. As each day passes, there’s one less … .
It’s been a long road for John Wyckoff, executive director of the Gingerbread House children’s advocacy center, who’s in the midst of a battle against stage IV prostate cancer.
It’s the support he and his wife, Roxanne, are receiving from their friends and the community at large that keeps him going. It’s hearing the words: “Keep fighting.” It’s seeing the basket of cards the couple keeps on their kitchen table. It’s been the many reminders that people are keeping them in their thoughts and prayers.
John’s forging ahead – but the challenges have been many.
The saga began Dec. 30, 2010, when he was released from the hospital after having back surgery. He’d thought that represented a new beginning, but instead, one week later, he received the letter that changed everything: He’d been declined for life insurance because of a high PSA level.
What’s a PSA? he remembers thinking before contacting his agent, who advised John to check with his primary care physician.
He learned that the PSA test is a routine screening test for prostate cancer in men. The higher the score, the more concern and, in John’s case, that number was a 29, making his a high-risk diagnosis.
As of this week, John’s about a quarter way through his 40 scheduled radiation treatments. A typical series is 25, but his radiation doctor prescribed the additional 15 due to the severity of his case. John’s been told, even though he had his prostate removed in February, has received hormone therapy and is now having radiation, there remains a 40- to 60-percent chance of the cancer returning in four to five years.
“The cancer is always there. It never goes away, even though it goes into remission” is what he’s been told, with John saying, “That’s been the most difficult thing to accept.”
He’s not letting himself think about any what ifs involving the future, however. And as his doctor told him, “This is what you’re doing now. We’ll talk later about the next step, if needed.”
So, for now, John’s focused on what’s in front of him and that’s the 40 radiation treatments.
“I needed some way to mark the time and count them off,” John said, saying the idea came to him to put pink ribbons on the gate to their property. He and Roxanne put those up together and as they return from each treatment, John pulls one of them. It’s a way to mark progress … a visible proof he’s moving forward.
“You have no control over cancer; the cancer controls you,” he said. “The ribbons are my little way to control something and to keep some control over the cancer. It’s a way to have that countdown.
Trying to maintain his humor
Known for his quick wit and sense of humor, John admits, “It’s harder and harder to be funny about it. Sometimes I just can’t be the funny, sarcastic John.” Forthcoming as always, he readily shares the hardships of the treatment with those who ask, saying, “Your modesty is gone – completely.”
Since his diagnosis in January, he has undergone a biopsy, surgery, CT scans, MRIs, bone scans and now radiation.
“It’s like my body is rearranged,” he said, saying he urges men to have a PSA test.
“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody,” he said, saying after a first story was written about his diagnosis, several men have since said they’ve been tested. His hope is that in continuing to share his story, other men will speak with their doctors.
Since the cancer diagnosis, John has had an additional back surgery and been diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome, for which he’s undergoing physical therapy. Another scan given as part of his cancer treatment revealed a ruptured hamstring. John shakes his head at the different ailments, saying, “It’s very surreal. I feel like a pin cushion; my whole body hurts every day.”
He also bore the loss of his mother, Ronnie Wyckoff, in April.
“You’re wondering when all of this will end,” Roxanne said.
John talks about how he used to mockingly quote a Billy Crystal character that said, “It’s better to look good than to feel good.”
“No, it’s better to feel good than look good,” he said, noting the irony now of people who come up to him and say, “John, you’re looking good.”
“In all honesty, I’d rather they say, ‘Keep fighting’ or ‘I’m there for you if you need anything,’ ” John said, noting those instead are the words that keep his spirits up.
“I realize it’s difficult for people. They don’t know what to say, but saying, ‘Everything will be fine,’ well, no one knows. And ‘Don’t worry about it,’ that’s just not easy,” he said, saying it’s words like “Whatever you need, call me” and “Keep going,” he most appreciates.
He does note his friends recently turned the “looking good” phrase on him, making a large banner with the phrase and having people sign it as an inside joke.
“They even had ‘Paul McCartney’ sign it,” he said with a smile at the group’s nod to his being a Beatles fan.
John has continued his work at the Gingerbread House, which serves child victims of sexual and or serious physical abuse and where plans already are under way for the center’s largest fundraiser, the annual Chili Cook-off and Barn Dance, held each year in February at the Ellis County Expo Center.
He’s also stayed busy working on various projects at the family’s rural Palmer property, where’s he’s built an arbor to shade a hammock and done other woodworking – and where he and Roxanne together have made a couple of meditation corners.
“That’s my saving grace right there, is to be productive,” he said.
“We’ve appreciated all of the support, the thoughts and prayers,” Roxanne said. “It means a lot to us.”
“Across the county, everyone’s been wonderful. I’ve gotten emails, phone calls, cards, letters … . It’s been nice to have that support, from my friends to people stopping me on the street that read the story,” John said.
“It’s not been a good eight months,” he said. “But you can’t say, ‘I just won’t do it.’ You have to.”
Contact JoAnn at email@example.com or 469-517-1452.