Cancer treatments slow local man but don’t quell love of riding motorcyclesDave Christenson liked to think of himself as a tough guy. An avid motorcycle rider, he perservered through the bumps and bruises and the broken bones that came with riding since he was 12 years old.
By: Marcus Traxler, The Daily Republic
Dave Christenson liked to think of himself as a tough guy.
An avid motorcycle rider, he perservered through the bumps and bruises and the broken bones that came with riding since he was 12 years old.
“People always think they are indestructible,” he said. “I know I always thought that way. ‘If I break a bone, I’ll get through it.’ This stuff, it’s been too close to home.”
“This stuff” was colorectal cancer. Found by accident, the disease slowed Christenson, but he’s gotten through the battle. Christenson will be one of the three honorary co-chairs Friday at the Heart and Sole Cancer Walk at the Mitchell Middle School. The event begins at 6:30 p.m.
The cancer was found by accident in March 2008. Christenson was visiting the doctor for a different procedure. He said he woke up in the operating room and found out he had cancer. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in American men.
“Not a good day,” he said. “It’s scary. Anytime you hear the C-word, it’s pretty tough.”
One of Christenson’s two sons, Lee, works as an oncology nurse for Sanford in Sioux Falls and recommended a doctor for his father.
The diagnosis was difficult for the family.
“It shook them up,” Christenson said. “You never expect it to happen to your own family. It always happens to someone else. When it happens, it makes you appreciate a lot of things that you had just ignored before.”
Christenson had 29 sessions of chemotherapy before a final surgery to clean up tissue in June 2008. He had a secondary infection that slowed his recovery for an extra six months, but he still calls himself fortunate.
“I’m a lucky guy. I’ve survived a lot of different things in my life, and cancer is another one of them,” he said.
Christenson, who works in maintenance for AKG Manufacturing in Mitchell, has been cancer free for almost four full years.
He did not feel sick from the chemotherapy but dropped 57 pounds during the treatments, worrying his wife of almost 35 years, Barb. Christenson said he lost the taste for almost everything.
“She thought I looked terrible and I was looking thin. Anytime I said I was hungry for something, she would just make it because she wanted me to eat so bad,” he said.
There was one doctor’s order Christenson didn’t follow. His radiation nurses said he probably wouldn’t be able to ride a motorcycle to his treatments, but he did for all but one.
“On the last day, I rode my four-wheeler to radiation. It wasn’t very pleasant, but I rode it,” he said.
Christenson never thought he would be a “poster child,” as he put it, for cancer, but that has become the case. He has spoken on numerous occasions about keeping up with cancer screening checkups and has appeared in promotional materials about detecting cancer.
“I think it gives you a realization that some things just aren’t important. Things change when there’s a chance you could die. It’s your life on the line and it definitely gets your attention,” said Christenson, who has peppered his friends with reminders about getting screened for cancer.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends both men and women begin regular colon screenings starting at age 50.
“This stuff can kill you, and if a simple test can prevent that, why not?” he said. “I don’t want to see anyone have to go through what I had to go through.”
He said one of the most reassuring parts of going through cancer was having people — some complete strangers — come up to him and tell him they beat cancer.
He didn’t miss work during the radiation and chemotherapy until he had to have surgery at the end. He credited the care he received at the Avera Queen of Peace Cancer Center for putting him at ease.
Christenson said he’s participated in each of the Heart and Sole events since ending his treatment four years ago.
“I’ve lived here my whole life and people know me, and I’m always willing to answer any questions they have. I just hope I can give those who are going through it right now a little support,” he said.
The same was the case when Christenson himself was fighting cancer. He had one person come up to him at the grocery store and say, “You know that’s not a death sentence. Hang in there, you’ll make it.”
He still likes to travel on motorcycle with his wife. He makes the trip to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally every summer and likes to go to the Black Hills multiple times a year. Christenson said he’s glad he can still jump on his bike and ride.
“I had a real good outcome. I can’t complain about that,” he said.