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Mitchell man fights grim diagnosis

Al Ridgway, 47, of Mitchell, is an honorary co-chair of the 2013 Heart and Sole Cancer Walk/Run today at the Mitchell Middle School. Ridgway was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago. (Ross Dolan/Republic)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the final of two profiles on the honorary cochairs for today's Heart and Sole Cancer Walk, which will be at Mitchell Middle School.

Sometimes the air can go out of life in one large gust. It was that way about a year ago for Allen "Al" Ridgway, 47, when he spoke with a Sioux Falls cancer specialist after a CT scan.

"He told me I had cancer and I didn't have much time to live," recalled Ridgway, sitting in the living room of his east Mitchell home.

Ridgway, who describes himself as "a stubborn person and a fighter," has survived his short-odds diagnosis, but he knows he's in the fight of his life. He attributes his survival to "a lot of prayers, chemotherapy, modern technology" and the support of family, friends and the Mitchell community.

He is an honorary co-chair of the 2013 Heart & Sole Cancer Walk/Run, which begins at 6:30 p.m. today at Mitchell Middle School.

The event raises money to assist local cancer patients.

"I went from someone who had never been sick, to someone with cancer," he said.

Early on, Ridgway thought his digestive problems were being caused by an ulcer. He decided to see his doctor after experiencing cold sweats, a lack of appetite, swelling and repeated comments from friends that he looked awful. Then came the appointments with specialists.

The scan disclosed neuroendocrine tumors, a rare and very aggressive form of cancer that affects the liver, pancreas and lymph nodes.

A short time later, Ridgway's body began shutting down and retaining fluid.

"When I was first sick, I weighed 205 and then I swelled to 270 pounds," he said.

Despite his initial gloomy prognosis, Ridgway said Avera physician Mark Huber, in Sioux Falls, decided to try chemotherapy. The results were dramatic.

"I lost 100 pounds of water weight," he said.

The tumors, however, persisted. At one point, Ridgway said, "there was more tumor than liver."

Researching possible treatments, he eventually contacted Cancer Treatment Centers of America, which prescribed a series of chemotherapy treatments which require periodic trips to the Chicago area.

"I had to do something," he said. "I wasn't going to give up."

The treatments haven't cured the cancer but have shrunk the tumors to their smallest sizes to date.

Ridgway is in awe of the support he's had from friends, as well as his employer AKG, of Mitchell, where he works in the quality control department.

Officials at Coca Cola Bottling Co. of Mitchell -- noting that Ridgway had been flying solo to Zion, Ill., near Chicago, for his treatments -- pitched in and covered his wife's airfare, enabling her to accompany her husband during his therapy. Other individuals and local companies such as Sungold Trophies and Porter Distributing have also been generous.

Other volunteers shoveled snow, held fundraisers and did what they could to lighten the load.

Ridgway still manages, with the help of a flexible schedule, to work regularly at AKG, a company that produces industrial cooling systems.

He and Jannell, his wife of 22 years, are the parents of three children: Derek, 21; Erin, 18; and Jacob, 13.

He knows the chances of attending future weddings and seeing grandchildren grow up are slim, but he tries not to dwell on the negative.

"You live in the now," he said.