Steamboat Springs In July 2007, Ken Farmer was four months into remission from a rare type of cancer in his head and neck. Friends and coworkers marveled at his positive attitude and refusal to give up on being the same person he was before the disease struck.
Then it came back.
Farmer has metastasized myoepithelial carcinoma, a cancer of the salivary glands. He has received the lifetime dose of radiation in the affected area. He’s been undergoing chemotherapy for six years.
But Farmer’s positive attitude could not be extinguished, and he’s refocused his energy into Yampa Valley Heals, a group to support other cancer patients or survivors in the valley.
“I met a cancer coach in the (University of Colorado Hospital) when I was going through radiation and chemo at the same time and going through hell,” Farmer said. She had two bouts with breast cancer and talked to Farmer about doing the best he could to get through treatment so he wouldn’t be able to regret not trying harder.
The experience made an impression on him. After returning to the Yampa Valley and learning there were no cancer coaches in the area, it struck the longtime firefighter that this was a chance to help others again.
“Overall, being on disability and retired from the fire department, I felt like very useless and not doing anything,” Farmer said. “So I started organizing the group. We got about eight people on board right now who’ve had other types of cancer.”
The group has been making visits to other patients and offering encouragement and advice.
“Just by showing up, it brings a lot of joy in their life,” he said.
“You can read about cancer survivors like Lance Armstrong,” Farmer said. “It’s different when it’s somebody local and somebody that’s been dealing with the Steamboat lifestyle.”
The purpose of the group is to facilitate a healing experience in the Yampa Valley.
A lot of cancer patients have to travel to three or four centers for care, he said, and the group wants to build resources in the valley and educate patients about what’s already here.
“Most of the people that are here have done their radiation somewhere else,” Farmer said. “It’s hard to come back and look forward to two months of chemo.”
When he visits with others dealing with the disease, he talks about strategies to combat the nausea and fatigue that comes with chemotherapy and puts a face with a survival story.
On June 9, members of the group talked with a man diagnosed with prostate cancer, and one of the members also had prostate cancer.
“It gave him the greatest sense of hope because he could see someone who was actually thriving,” Farmer said.
“I call it building the will to live,” he said. “A lot of us have the will to live, but we’re focused on all sorts of goals but not focused on what keeps us excited.
It’s more than just optimism. It gives them kind of a foundation. It gives them more determination.”
After his cancer returned, Farmer picked up a book called “Anticancer: A New Way a New Life.”
The book details the way different types of cancers interact with certain fruits and vegetables, Farmer said, and it encouraged him to maintain his diet and exercise.
“I just got done with double chemo. It was so hard to do it,” he said about the pain and fatigue.
“At that time period, my cancer had kept metastasizing. We were chasing the cancer around my body. I was about to give up on everything. By reading the book and going through it, I felt like I had a chance. I can get involved in my own healing.”
He credits changes in diet, acupuncture, massages, relaxation and visualization techniques and physical therapy with helping to restore his strength. He also thanked all those across the Yampa Valley who prayed for his recovery.
It’s experience and support like that he hopes to use to encourage others in the Yampa Valley and eventually beyond.
“We’re hoping down the road to invite other people from across Colorado to experience the great outdoors that we have here after chemo or radiation,” Farmer said.
He has a vision where unused timeshares can be donated to cancer patients for a weeklong getaway.
“The whole purpose to have a healing experience in the Yampa Valley,” he said.
Yampa Valley Heals will have an informational meeting from 7 to 9 p.m. June 24 in Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library. The Whole Person Wellness for Cancer Patients support group meets from noon to 1 p.m. Friday at Integrated Health at Yampa Valley Medical Center.
Those wanting to get involved with Yampa Valley Heals can call Farmer at 970-846-4717.
“I’m doing what I can with my life,” he said. “I’m out there serving other people.”
His last PET scan months earlier showed that three of his five inoperable tumors have gone dormant and ceased growing.
“One of the goals that I had was to make it to my 60th birthday, and I had that" June 10.
Now, he’s setting goals for 61 and 62.
To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206 or email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com