December 15, 2016

An Active Outdoors Life Despite Myeloma

dykstraIn July 2007, Jim Dykstra did a lot of hard-core hiking. With his brother and nephew, he hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up. It was a grueling three-day hike, and it was hot outside — 120 degrees. They also took long hikes in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park. Dykstra was 45 years old and in great shape. Back-to-back hikes were not a big deal for him.

The next month, home from the hiking adventures, Dykstra decided to get serious about the nagging neck and shoulder pain that had stuck with him since an auto accident the previous year. He wanted an answer to the increasing numbness in his fingers, too. He had been to a chiropractor and physical therapist, but the pain and numbness had persisted. Finally, in October 2007, his insurance agreed to cover an MRI, which revealed destruction of the seventh cervical vertebra (C7). An abnormal M-protein level confirmed a diagnosis of myeloma.

Dykstra immediately made an appointment at the Myeloma Center. Coincidentally, his father had had myeloma, as well as colon cancer (his mother had colon cancer, too). Dykstra had done his homework about myeloma treatment centers and knew all about the Myeloma Center. What sold him without a doubt was the Myeloma Center’s impressively large number of stem cell transplants and record of success.

The first order of business was replacement of the damaged vertebra, performed by UAMS neurosurgeon, Dr. T. Glenn Pait. Then, under the care of Dr. Frits van Rhee, Dykstra was treated on a regimen similar to the Total Therapy 3 clinical trial. Treatment over a four- year period included tandem transplants and chemotherapy, some of which was done near his hometown of Incline Village, Nevada. When in Little Rock, he stayed at one of the hotels that provide shuttle service to/from UAMS. “Their staff understands,” he said.

Dykstra’s two children were in high school when he was diagnosed. They were exposed during their impressionable teenage years to the realities of a cancer diagnosis and treatment. They pitched in as caregivers, helping their mother and their uncle (Dykstra’s brother) from Dallas. Dykstra’s son, at the age of 15, spent a week in Little Rock as the primary caregiver during one of his father’s transplants.Dykstra is quite sure that his daughter’s decision to pursue a nursing career sprang, in part, from her hands-on caregiving experience. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in nursing at the University of Wisconsin.

A CPA by profession, Dykstra worked early in his career as a controller for Dole Food Company, traveling all over the world and living in Costa Rica for six years. He and his wife, Jane, also a CPA, came back to the U.S. and settled down in Incline Village to raise their family. They quickly adapted to the magnificent environment and its boundless opportunities for outdoor activities.

At the end of maintenance therapy, the last portion of the Total Therapy 3-like regimen, Dykstra’s spirit of adventure and love of the outdoors and travel kicked back in. Anxious to resume an active lifestyle, even though tired and a bit worn out, he retired from work and resumed hiking, frequently with his dog and always with Jane’s encouragement. He was determined to enjoy every day and live life to its fullest. Over time, his stamina returned.

Dykstra kayaks regularly on Lake Tahoe. In fact, this past July he completed his fifth five-day trip around the 70-mile shore line. Two years ago, at an altitude of 8,000 feet and with more than 50 pounds on his back, he completed the 175-mile Lake Tahoe Rim Trail that forms a loop around the Lake Tahoe Basin in the Sierra Nevada and Carson ranges of California and Nevada. When he reached the 150 mile mark, he was overcome with emotion. Realizing that he would be able to complete the journey in 15 days, he wept tears of thanks for his renewed strength. Last summer Dykstra completed a 170-mile, solo trek along the John Muir Trail. “It was a miracle,” he said. Never did he imagine during his four years of treatment that he would be able to get back to the outdoor adventures that he loves
so much.

Dykstra has a new appreciation for what he can do and how he can help others. He readily shares his enthusiasm and joy for life. He is active with Meals on Wheels through Sierra Senior Services. He is a regular with “Read with Me,” a program that facilitates language and early literacy skills, with third-graders at the public school. He coaches basketball for middle school kids at the Incline Village Parks and Recreation Center. And, Dykstra and Jane, who is now also retired, are back to traveling the world. Recent trips include Spain, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Alaska, and five weeks in Europe.

Little Rock is on the travel list, too, for annual checkup visits. Dykstra always enjoys seeing his Myeloma Center family. “I can’t say enough about the staff,” he said. When he talks with newly diagnosed patients, he encourages them to come to Little Rock to get what he says is “the best care.” Nine years since diagnosis and in complete remission, Dykstra has no detectable disease and has not received any treatment for the last four and a half years. “The doctors are hinting that they will soon be able to declare me cured. That word was not in the vocabulary when I was diagnosed,” he said