A teacher's greatest lesson

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— From a vacation to Mexico to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary to a weeklong Canadian fishing trip with his son, Bill McKelvie had retirement all figured out.

Then, three weeks before Steamboat Springs High School graduation ceremonies and the end of McKelvie's 32 years of teaching, he received devastating news.

The cancer McKelvie battled and seemingly defeated three years ago was back.

"I though I had beaten it," McKelvie said. "I though I was home free and retired and healthy. I was raring to go."

His retirement plans now are postponed. In their place is an aggressive chemotherapy schedule, by which he undergoes 48 consecutive hours of treatment every two weeks.

This new retirement calendar began last week.

"It's going to be a major battle with this cancer," McKelvie said. "We're going to attack it very aggressively."

McKelvie said he and doctors are very optimistic about the new chemotherapy drug being used in his fight with liver cancer. The hope is that after five months of chemotherapy, the tumor will be reduced to an operable size. A successful operation and an additional five months of chemotherapy ideally will rid his body of cancer, McKelvie said.

"My goal is to see my daughter graduate from high school and be cancer-free a year from now," he said Friday, unable to hold back tears. "It's going to be a yearlong fight. Then, a year from now, I'll start retirement."

McKelvie said he welcomes the thoughts and prayers of others, but sympathy had no hand in his decision to make his fight with cancer public.

After more than three decades of teaching, McKelvie hopes this will be his greatest lesson.

"I want people to start thinking: Maybe I should go get a physical, maybe I should get that colonoscopy, maybe I should get that blood work done, because the hard thing about cancer is that the symptoms can be very, very small. Then, out of nowhere, you're facing a major battle," he said.

"I still have that teacher in me," he said. "Maybe someone can catch it in time and not have to go through what I'm going through. That's what I'm hoping."

Three years after he seemingly defeated colon cancer, McKelvie felt healthy and ready for post-retirement fishing and hunting trips.

Occasional fatigue and shoulder pain seemed normal, he said. But when he recently went to have his annual blood work done, McKelvie's doctors became concerned.

CT scans, additional blood tests and a liver biopsy revealed the worst: the cancer had returned.

"(Cancer) comes out of nowhere," he said. "I'm not a smoker, I'm not a drinker. It's like, where on Earth does this come from?

"It's been devastating news to have all those dreams and to just come to a screeching halt. With retirement you think you have all this freedom -- no more calendars. It's hard to come to grips with."

The support of family and friends is helping McKelvie, as is knowing a medical facility such as Yampa Valley Medical Center exists so close to home, he said.

"Thank goodness we have this local facility and cancer patients don't have to go down to Denver for their chemotherapy treatments," he said. "I can't say enough good things about the Yampa Valley Medical Center and the doctors here. They're just fantastic."

As McKelvie wages war against the cancer in his liver, he vows to continue living life the way he wants to. That includes a July trip to a mountain festival on the Utah and Wyoming borders and an August trip to Montana with his daughter to visit the University of Montana, where she someday may earn her college degree.

But not before her father sees her graduate high school.

-- To reach Brent Boyer call 871-4234

or e-mail bboyer@steamboatpilot.com

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