This year’s Relay for Life honorary survivor won’t have to think too far back as he shares his story.
Relay For Life, a community event to raise funds to fight cancer, celebrate survivors and remember those who lost their cancer battle, returns to the Waseca County Fairgrounds on July 26. Every year, the Relay For Life board picks an honorary chairman, and this year, Bruce Boyce, a very recent fighter of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, was chosen.
“I told Linda (Karst, chairman for the event) I won’t need any notes to tell that one because it’s pretty fresh in my mind,” Boyce said. “I’m still thinking about exactly what I’m going to say but talking about the details and the events of my cancer experience is real easy, the hard thing to do will be keeping it on point … the highs and the lows, that part will be easy.
When speaking about his story Boyce realizes that he is not the only person who has had cancer or has a cancer story but he hopes his story can help at least one person or be relatable for one.
“I suppose everybody who’s had a cancer experience maybe wonders or thinks about in their mind what you take away from this, what the meaning of it is, what the significance is. Something that you have that you can tell other people about or helps them, or you know, things like that, the takeaway, I guess that’s the part I’m still thinking through.”
His story started about a year ago in early July 2018.
“The most important part and I would say the most difficult of my cancer experience was about a year ago in July of 2018,” Boyce said. “I think it’s a pretty interesting story to hear because there’s a lot of twists and turns to it and that sort of thing.”
Summer started out rough when his wife, Sally Boyce, was injured on a vacation requiring her to use a sling. Boyce was a caregiver for his wife when he said he began to feel the symptoms that told him something was wrong. The symptoms included shortness of breath that would occur when he did routine activities around the house.
Boyce worked as a Waseca County administrator for 32 years, and after retiring, he started to work as a paraprofessional at the Central Building in the Waseca School District. Being that he works with young kids, sickness isn’t new for him — “It’s an occupational hazard.” How he felt was persistent, though, so he decided to go to the doctor.
From the visit he was given some prescriptions to help with what they thought was happening, but it didn’t change.
“… it was the night of July fourth that was really the most difficult and scariest of the whole experience for me, because I couldn’t draw a breath lying down; it was just impossible to sleep in the usual way, so I would try to sleep sitting up so I could draw a little bit of a breath and it didn’t go very well,” Boyce said. “I didn’t sleep much so it was time to go back into the urgent care so I did that on July fifth last year and they gave me an X-ray and CT scan and set up an appointment for me to see the doctor the next day, so I went home.”
Sally Boyce had an appointment that same day that she left for when he got home. Shortly after she left, Boyce received a phone call from her that she was in a crash but uninjured. But Boyce said that she had minimized the accident on the phone and that an SUV had blown a stop sign, t-boning her with enough force they ended up in a person’s lawn. The crash totaled their car.
As they were dealing with the usual post-crash steps, Boyce received a call from the clinic telling him he needs to come back to the hospital immediately.
“I get this cell phone call, and it’s the clinic, and the clinic says you better not wait until tomorrow to come back and see the doctor, you have a large fast growing mass in your chest and we need to deal with it now,” Boyce said. “All of this is within 30 minutes and so it was a rough start to last summer, kind of a black day. You know, one of those you certainly like to forget but absolutely can’t.”
When he was back at the clinic they showed him the CT results from earlier in the day. The reason he could not breath is because there was a tumor between his sternum and his heart growing rapidly and causing fluid build up.
“They showed me this picture of my lungs and it was just shocking,” Boyce said. “One of them (lungs) was half full and the other one was about 80 percent full of fluid, so no wonder I couldn’t breathe.”
During the chaos of the day on July 5, between the car accident and the news from the doctor, Boyce was happy one of his sons was around at the cabin in Elysian for Fourth of July.
“He was able to join us in the ER and I don’t remember much of it but I do remember this sense of disbelief,” Boyce said. “I didn’t really feel scared about it … I remember waiting for the ambulance and just laughing with my wife and son and maybe that was just my way of coping with the situation I don’t know.”
Boyce thought back on his life.
“At some point early on I started to think about where this thing might head from here,” he said.“I have always found it useful to think about what’s really the worst thing that could really happen as a result from this situation, so I thought about that and the worst possible thing that could’ve happened is that after leading a life that was generally happy and filled with service and I like to think oriented towards other people and their benefit and relating to God my higher power, the worst that could happen is that I would be checking out of this place a little earlier than I had anticipated and is that so terribly bad? I kept thinking to myself, you don’t want to die right away, nobody does, but I think you could be satisfied about the life you lead and I came back to that thought a lot throughout the whole experience.
He was taken to Mayo Hospital in Rochester for treatment.
“Immediately to get me a little breath back they drained my lungs of this fluid … there was an incredible amount of fluid built-up in there and I will never forget the feeling of being able to breath easily again after that experience,” Boyce said. “Oh my gosh, that’s wonderful and you take it for granted every day.”
On July 9, 2018, four days after his urgent care visit, the doctors were 99 percent sure that it was Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and after a few tests they were able to conclude it was a correct diagnosis at stage four. The cancer had metastasized, but luckily he was given a high cure rate.
“If you’re going to have cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is the kind to have,” Boyce said of what others say.
Boyce was able to get his first round of chemotherapy at the end of July. He recalls being skeptical at first, but knocked it right out and he felt good after the first round.
Along with the tumor, he also had blood clots, meaning throughout his entire treatment he had to be on blood thinners. During his 12 rounds of chemotherapy, the school district was able to give him a leave of absence. He recalls feeling logy and not very ambitious a few days after the treatment but he wouldn’t be out for the entire day.
His treatment went from the end of July 2018 through January 2019. His first two rounds of chemo were done in Rochester while the other 10 were done in Mankato at the Andreas Cancer Center-Mayo Health. He was on an ABVD regimen, which is a combo of four different chemicals given by infusion.
After four rounds, doctors said they couldn’t find any cancer.
“How do you think I felt, I was so thankful, on top of the world sort of thing …,” Boyce said.
But if he was getting a little too positive, the world made sure to bring him down a notch soon after. Since finishing his treatment plan, Boyce was still required to do quarterly check-ups.
At his April 2019 appointment, he was thrown another curve in his recovery. He had mentioned a sore that he had for awhile under his eye. When it was checked out, it came back as Basal Cell Carcinoma, skin cancer. He had the spot removed to take care of it.
“It was a little reminder that don’t get so cocky and full of yourself, don’t take anything for granted,” Boyce said. “Don’t get complacent.”
Relay For Life
The story of Boyce’s cancer journey will be summed up into a 15 to 20 minute speech that he will share with the audience at the Relay For Life event 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. July 26.
“It’s an event for the whole family,” board member Angela Kaelberer said.
Boyce’s Pastor John Omans, of Saint John’s Lutheran of Waseca, will give the invocation at the event. There will also be luminarias set out in memory and dedication of those who lost their battle to cancer as well as for survivors.
“It’s incredibly moving to see the bags,” Kaelberer said. “They’re all decorated and just to see the lights and to know that each one of them represents a person who has had cancer.”
There will also be activities like a silent auction, sign painting , face paint and a cupcake walk. Food will be available, including the Waseca Fire Department for the second year doing their onion rings and burgers. The Faith for a Cure team will be selling popcorn and root beer floats.
There will be a lap for survivors and a lap for caregivers.
“(Relay For Life) has kind of fallen off a little bit and I think a lot of it is that people go on vacation and have busy schedules, but we would really like it to get back to be an event the whole community can come together and celebrate and help join together to fight cancer,” Kaelberer said.
When Boyce had the good news that he was clear in January he wrote up an email that he tried to send to everyone who was apart of his journey. He said that he sent it to at least 100 people and still missed some.
“I don’t know how to describe that kind of outpour that happened to me, but this happens to other people, too, which is a really cool thing to see,” he said.
Through the journey, Boyce became even closer to those around him.
“My relationship with my wife was strengthened,” he said. “We were mutual caregivers during this time, because she had this sling and she couldn’t do things that I could, and there were certain things that I couldn’t do, so it really brought us closer taking care of and providing for one another.”
Boyce, a Christian, said he also started praying more and felt an increased spiritual connection.
“I was praying everyday and there might be a day that I forget it but most days I wake up and say thank you. It definitely strengthened my spiritual relationship,” he said.
Being diagnosed didn’t stop Boyce from keeping a positive outlook on life. He enjoys gardening, traveling, reading, fitness, photography and other activities with his family. He finds himself treasuring the moments more than ever.
“I take a lot of positives from my experience,” Boyce said. “There were a lot of bad things that happened, but a lot of incredibly good stuff too, and again, that’s not everybody’s story, but that’s my story.”