April 14, 2012
EDITOR’S NOTE: Saturday is sure to be an emotional one for K-State track athlete Devin Dick, who will compete in the pole vault and hurdles in action at K.T. Woodman Classic in Wichita. It’s the school where Dick started his career, but also a time where cancer created havoc in his body. Saturday is the first of a two-part story on the rugged road of cancer that Dick has traveled in the last three-plus years to arrive at K-State.
By Mark Janssen
Devin Dick was of the age, plus sports-minded enough, to know of the Lance Armstrong story.
The tale of how the worlds’ premier cyclist was diagnosed with, fought, and overcame, testicular cancer.
That should be the end of the story.
But it isn’t.
It was the closing weeks of his freshman year in 2009 at Wichita State when “… I started feeling tired, but I thought that was just because I was on the track training four or five hours a day. I started vomiting, but I still just thought it was from the workouts, or maybe a virus.”
Honestly, he started getting sluggish back in February, but again, he thought it was the combination of the rigors of being an honor student, and a 10-event Shocker track and field decathlete.
That was the spring of 2009.
It’s now the spring of 2012, and the now Kansas State multi-eventer says, “Lance Armstrong is my role model. We had the same type of cancer. If he could beat it and compete like he did, why couldn’t I?”
Yes, Dick, like Armstrong, had testicular cancer. Stage 3 testicular cancer when Stage 4 is the highest.
The fight he faced was to be in another world. One giving new meaning to the word grueling normally associated with the 10-event decathlon.
TOO YOUNG FOR THIS KIND OF NEWS: Dick finally went to the doctor in those final weeks of the spring semester to his freshman year. He went to have blood tests that would give an answer to his blah feeling.
The doctor called back the next day; another appointment was scheduled.
“It normally takes four months to get into a specialist, but they had me in the next day,” reflected Dick. “That told me something must be wrong, but something like testicular cancer never crossed my mind. I was 19!”
Dick, a Hutchinson, Kan., product, was a picture of health having graduated from nearby Buhler High School where he collected a total of seven athletic letters in basketball, wrestling, soccer and track and field.
Now, that collection of medals won through strength, speed and endurance were meaningless to the competition he was about to begin. Dick was to go through four rounds of extreme chemotherapy at the cancer wing of Wichita’s Wesley Hospital.
“The longest days of my life,” Dick calls them. “It was an hour to the hospital, eight hours of treatment, and an hour home. It was 10 to 11 hours a day, six days a week.”
Only a positive attitude, and extreme belief, got the Dick family through the totally unfair ordeal that was to come. For anyone, it wasn’t right; for a 19-year-old, no … nothing like that should ever happen.
“Sure, I thought, ‘Why me? I’m 19. I have so much to do.’,” admitted Dick. “It was so hard on my mother (Kathy) to watch this, but I had a wonderful family and extended family support system, and a strong Christian belief. It was a point you had to believe you were going to get well, but also an understanding of how severe things were. Part of you did say, ‘Whatever happens, happens; if it’s my time, it’s my time.’ ”
At the age of 19, it wasn’t right.
The first round of chemotherapy, Dick said, “… wasn’t that bad.” The second one “… got worse.” The third one “… now, that was tough.” The fourth one “… excuse me, but that was hell. There were times I didn’t know if I was going to wake up. That’s not fun.”
Some days when a wee part of him “…. didn’t care if I woke up.”
During off time he’d try to hang out with friends, play a little softball, or do the slightest of farm chores. But honestly, “I had about 30 minutes of energy a day, at the most.”
During those eight-hour treatments, he watched TV and listened to music.
“Thank goodness I like a variety of music … classical, hip-hop, country, musicals … (laughing) and I did a lot of coloring. (Laughing) Yeah, with crayons. You had to have something to do besides TV.”
Dick’s athletic 6-foot-4, 185-pound frame dwindled to a puny 140-pounds.
“I couldn’t keep any food down,” said Dick. “I would drink a gallon of milk a day. That would be all I had on some days.”
Doctors never worded his condition as “… life-threatening, but they just said it’s something we need to take care of now.”
With this invention called Google it was easy to learn that things were serious. He truly was in the battle of, and for, his life. It was serious. He wouldn’t be well tomorrow, or next week, or next month.
THE WINDING TRAIL BACK: Dick returned to Wichita State for the Fall semester in 2009, but through a three-month checkup it was found that the cancer had spread to his abdomen and lungs.
Dick immediately went to Indiana University where Armstrong’s doctor, Larry Einhorn, became his own: “I had surgery to remove everything.”
After being in ICU for four days, and hospitalized for several more, Dick made an early trip back home to attend the funeral of his youth track coach, who had died of cancer.
“Now that was a long trip lying down in the back of a car with 40 staples holding me together,” said Dick. “But it’s something I had to do ... wanted to do.”
Amazingly, Dick returned to WSU for the 2010 spring semester and did what workouts he could do. When he couldn’t go another stride, he stopped.
“Mentally, it was what I needed; physically, it was something I probably shouldn’t have been doing,” said Dick, who was only eight to nine months removed from the hellacious quad-rounds of chemo. “There was the constant adjusting to the medications, so with workouts you did what you could, but if you couldn’t do it, you didn’t.
“Honestly, it would eat you alive if you thought about cancer all the time. I needed to be doing something else,” said Dick. “Even today, I do my best to only think about it when I have a doctor’s appointment coming up.”
When the fall of 2010 hit, his mind-set also took a hit. Depression set in.
“Mentally, I was fried. I had gone through too much,” said Dick. “I stopped eating and I couldn’t sleep. If I did attend classes, I couldn’t remember anything. I was a good student, but from a mental aspect, I couldn’t get myself together. I was like a train wreck.”