ESN’s Play-by-Play man Ron Soanka has handled our ESN 3 stream for the past 3 years. He was all set for another great year when he was dealt a life changing blow, he was diagnosed with cancer. Since meeting Ron one fateful Saturday, the night that Chiawana came from behind to beat Camas for the State Football Championship Ron and his crew of Rodney Lawrence and Dan O’Dell have been part of the Eli Sports Network. They have been a huge addition to “the company” as Ron says and it all begins with Ron’s passion and love of sports.
As soon as we heard about Ron’s diagnosis we told him it’s time to focus on him. He was immediately trying to figure out how we could make sure no games would be missed of course and thanks to Rodney and Dan no games were missed despite neither of them having a lot of play-by-play experience. Ron has maintained contact with them meeting with Rodney on a weekly basis and worked on scheduling and getting information for the guys. As Chris Berman would famously say, “you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him”, is perfect when describing our efforts in getting Ron not to worry about broadcasting games.
Since there is zero chance of getting Ron to slow down we talked about what he wanted to do while battling cancer for the 2nd time in his life. His first reaction was how can we turn this into a positive? For those of you who know Ron you will not be surprised by his reaction. This is when the idea of documenting his experience and the process he is about to undertake came up. So in this series we will follow Ron who will guide us through in his own words.
Our hope that by sharing this experience, people with similar issues may be educated, comforted even inspired. Ron wants to take the fear out of this process for those facing it and maybe sharing what he goes through might do that and if just 1 person gains comfort it will make this worthwhile. He will be writing at his pace so we can’t say when each piece and how many he will write but as they are completed we will attach them to this story page.
Also please feel free to reach out to Ron and say Hi, he is very active on his Facebook page just look up Ron Soanka there aren’t many of him, even on Facebook and his e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chapter 5 “I Hope God doesn’t need a Play-by-Play Announcer; Visiting Friends & Teams ” by Ron Soanka
I am now headed to the end of my 13 day rest in between treatments and it feels really good to get this rest break and regain my strength. My next round of chemo will begin on January 20th. On Friday the 13th I went in for a cat scan. It will let me know how effective the chemo has been. I’m thinking I’ll find out when I see my chemo doctor on the 20th. Kinda nervous about this and always hoping that it will be positive news. As soon as I find out I will let everyone know for sure.
I wanted to go back a couple of weeks ago when I was asked by one of my good friends Jay Foreman, who is the girls varsity coach at Madison High School in Portland, Oregon if I would come in and talk to his young ladies before their first tourney game. As soon as Jay asked me I knew immediately what I wanted to say. It was great to share with them and to give them some insight about the game of basketball, and life, and respecting your coaches. On the way into the locker room Jay asked how long it took me to get my talk ready. I told him “I knew right away what I wanted to say”. Jay looked at me and said ‘he wasn’t’ surprised by my answer”. This has opened some doors for me to talk to some of the local teams here down the road and I’ll share that with you as they happen.
The two pictures that are attached to this blog are from one of my visits. The first is of one of the RN’s that takes care of me. Her name is Rebecca. This pic was taken a couple of days before she was headed to Maui, Hawaii for her wedding. The second pic is of a mural on the 7th floor that greets you as you get off the elevator. It’s the story of a 15 year old girl who beat cancer and certainly gives me lots of inspiration in my own battle.
People have asked me about my schedule and as best I know I need to go thru four rounds of chemo, in which each round consists of three visits. It is Friday, Saturday, then the following Friday.
One of the biggest problems I’m having is staying hydrated. Even though I feel like I’m drinking plenty of fluids I still need to drink even more. On my last visit they had a hard time finding a good vein and had to stick me three times. With 15 minutes left in my visit the vein collapsed, and they had to use my other arm. Getting stuck 5 times in one visit I think is my limit.
Chapter 4 “I Hope God doesn’t need a Play-by-Play Announcer; Give me a Call” by Ron Soanka
I want to put a little different spin on this blog as I begin my next round of chemo starting on 12/30, 12/31, and 1/6. This will complete two rounds then I’ll have 13 days off. As I write this I am completing the end of a thirteen day cycle of rest and it really has been nice.
I want to spend some time and write about some apprehension some of my friends are having in contacting me during this time. This past week I’ve reached out to two close friends just to touch base and to let them know how I’m doing. I was stunned to learn from them that they have wanted to call me the last two weeks but were afraid of “bothering me” and they didn’t know how to deal with that. My reply was really quite simple. Just pick up the phone and call me. “Really”, they both replied. Here’s the thing folks. I may been struggling a bit when you call and not really feel like talking at that moment in time, but it doesn’t mean I won’t call you back or text you on how I’m doing.
I think these two calls were very important for both my friends and myself as to breaking down some communication barriers and to let them know IT IS OK TO CALL. I know they appreciated my comments and it took a big burden off their shoulders.So if there may be those of you that have friends going through chemo it’s ok to reach out and call. I realize each case is quite different. I’m just sharing how I feel and the importance of hearing from friends. It is a great morale booster. It really is quite simple folks. There are thousands of success stories across this country about people beating cancer everyday. I would like to add my name to that list.
I want to share with you some feedback I got from a friend of mine whose wife is battling cancer and has been for some time now. His statement to me was quite simple. “Ron, we are reading all your blogs and appreciate your willingness to be so open about what you are going through, and writing about it. It has given me new insight about what my wife is experiencing and a better understanding for me. So much easier for me now to relate”. This is exactly why I wanted to do this blog and if it is only to reach one person then I’ve done my job and thank God for his wisdom.
There have been many humbling conversations I’ve had with friends and fellow broadcasters over the last three weeks. Please allow me to share one more that truly humbled me. Bill Brown is a high school friend from my days at Smith Cotton High School in Sedalia, Missouri. I believe he was the only one in our class as a freshman that knew what he wanted to do with his life. Bill just recently retired as the long time television voice of the Houston Astros. When Bill first read about my recent battle with cancer he reached out to me. We chatted about his most recent book and life in general. After we hung up I got a text message from him saying that the book was just about ready to go to press, and that he wanted to dedicate the book to me. In my wildest dreams I never ever thought such a high honor would be given to me. I recently posted a picture of me holding the book a few days ago on Instagram. The name of the book is BREATHING ORANGE FIRE-JOSE ALTUVE. I’ll just say it is a good read.
Chapter 3 “I Hope God doesn’t need a Play-by-Play Announcer; The Chemo Effect” by Ron Soanka
Before I get into the third blog of this series, I’ve been wrestling with the question of how much info do I share with everyone and, how personal do I get. When it comes to my private life, I am very protective of my privacy and the lives of family members. I talked with Paul Beattie, the founder of the Eli Sports Network, about this. We decided that if I really wanted to reach out and truly share with you the readers, those barriers need to come down, and that the general public would understand. It really wasn’t that hard of a decision to be honest, for this blog is not about me and my fight with cancer and chemo. It’s about lifting the burden from those that are fighting the same fight, and if I only reach one person and it makes a difference, then I’ve done my job. So here we go.
Since the last blog I’ve completed three rounds of chemo and now have thirteen days off before we start again. If you want to know part of the effects of chemo and how it changes your life I came up with this idea. Get a blank piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. Now on the left hand side of the page write the word chemo. On the right side of the page write down of list of daily things you do. Makes no difference what you write, just things you do daily. The next step is to take the pencil or pen and draw a X thru all the things on the right side of the page. Very simply, chemo takes it all away from you. In my case it has made the easiest of tasks not possible for me to do, or very difficult to do.
In my situation two things are pretty tough. For four days last week my system was completely backed up and it was awful. Even to take a few sips of water felt like my skin was as tight as a drum, not to mention how uncomfortable the feeling was. The second problem was the acid re flux and nausea. There was no position you could find to make you feel comfortable and made any type of sleep impossible. One night became so bad my mind was racing about ideas for this blog and I had to take an anxiety pill. It worked and I got six hours of quality sleep. As I sit here at my desk I can say that today has started out pretty good and that I did sleep well. This fight is not day by day, but rather hour by hour. You want to do more, but you know that is not going to happen and you have to live within the confines of what the effect of chemo will let you do.
There have been some tremendous conversations from very close friends and words of encouragement. One of my close friends was in church this past Sunday and in the middle of the service took a picture of a bible verse and sent it to me. I want to share it with you. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us . Romans 8:18 Thank you Chris!
As I get ready to close this blog I wanted to share two conversations I had with some very close friends that I love dearly, that really have put so many things into perspective. Both are broadcast partners, plus dear friends. A friend broke down on the phone talking to me yesterday and told me “that he considered me to be a real father figure to him”. I missed his wedding last year and he was sad for the one thing he told me was that he wanted his dad to meet me. He said that he talks to his dad all the time about me. My other friend told me that he considered me to be the big brother he never had. I was totally blown away by those comments. I’ve known these two men for over ten years and had no idea of the impact I had. Times of struggle bring out these type of feelings. I am deeply humbled to say the least.
I want to close by saying how much I appreciate all the words of encouragement, prayers, calls, and support. It is what keeps me going. I wish all of you a Merry Christmas.
Let go! Let God!
Chapter 2 “I Hope God doesn’t need a Play-by-Play Announcer; The 1st Chemo” by Ron Soanka
Thought this may good a good time to write another blog since my first round of chemo is in the books. Let me say that I really appreciate the response we’ve gotten and as I stated earlier, this is not about me, but me wanting to reach out and help. In future references I will refer to the hospital simply as OHSU, for that is the how people refer to it here. The correct name is Oregon Health & Science University-Knight Cancer Institute.
My first treatment was broken into two segments. The reason for this is the numerous kidney stone attacks I’ve had and they need to make sure my kidneys are strong enough. So the first 1/2 was done followed by a session on Sunday. Being the first treatment I had no idea what to expect. Each step of the visit was explained in detail and that is a big contributing factor in being relaxed and understanding the entire process. It makes a tremendous difference from the patients outlook in understanding so if you are going through this process and have questions be sure to speak up, your doctors and nurses no doubt will be happy to answer any of your questions. It seems everyone on staff at OHSU has gone the extra mile to make sure I totally understand what is happening.
After I got signed in then you go out onto the “chemo floor” comprised of big open spaces separated by curtains with two people to a space. The first procedure took about three hours and gave me a chance to visit with some of my “neighbors” if you well. I still have to chuckle after all these years that when people find out I’m a sports broadcaster the whole mood of the room changes. They say music and sports can change a room immediately. It was great to talk sports on all levels with my fellow chemo family. I think it takes our minds off of what we are dealing with for a bit and that is good. Plus, I get to talk about a huge passion in my life. The time seems to go by pretty fast when you can visit with folks it seems. They have snacks for us and of course I love that for sure. I was very content to have my Sprite drink and a fudge Popsicle. The last time I had a fudge Popsicle, I think I had a lot of hair….lol…
After we got done there were three prescriptions we were given to get filled. Went to the local Walgreen’s to pick them up. I can’t believe this next part really happened. The pharmacist had the medications ready and started to explain them since this was the first time I’ve taken them. The first explanation went very well. We ran into problems on the second. After a few seconds of glancing back and forth to me and the prescription the pharmacist asks me, “what is this for”. Are you kidding me? You’re the one with the white coat on not me. It took me a few minutes to digest what happened after I got back home. Strange! C’mon man!
In talking with some of the staff members I found out they process about 70 people a day that are on chemo for what they are dealing with. Some pretty big numbers if you do the math. It really has given me a new perspective on how precious life is.
As I was wrapping up my first visit and getting ready to leave an elderly gentleman and his son was getting ready for his appointment. I chatted with him a bit and found out he is an Army vet with stage 4 lung cancer. I went over and shook his hand and thanked him for his service. I shared with him my dad served 30 years in the U.S. Army and retired a Command Sargent Major. As I shared that with him I felt his grip get stronger and he looked me dead in the eye and said “your dad must have been one hell of a soldier”. My reply was, “yes he was”. It made my eyes water a tad. I will cherish that conversation for the rest of my life.
When Paul Beattie proposed this idea to me about the blog it was really strange to me that the first thought in my mind was, that in reality it is feasible I could be writing about my own death. It doesn’t bother me at all just found that thought a little strange. Remember, this blog is not about me at all. I want it to bring hope and understanding to those that may be fighting the same battle.
I would like to leave all of you with these four words my son Derek shared with me that will be my theme for this battle. “Let Go! Let God!
God bless all of you.
Chapter 1 “I Hope God doesn’t need a Play-by-Play Announcer” by Ron Soanka
A few weeks ago I was asked if I wouldn’t mind doing a commentary/blog about my newest cancer battle. My immediate response was yes. I figured if someone else reading this might be going thru the same battle, or is a cancer survivor it may help them, and also be therapeutic for me as well. In order to start at the beginning we need to go back to last October.
In October of 2015 I suffered a pretty serious kidney stone attack. After a few weeks the doctor felt that I passed all the stones except maybe one they were concerned with. My doctor said ” let’s wait a few months and have you come back and we’ll do an ultrasound to make sure the last stone has passed”. This past August I got a call to come in and do the ultrasound. Everything was going along pretty smoothly until the attendant said there is a large growth on your bladder. We will have to get a hold of your doctor. I waited about a week to see my urologist and he told me he felt like it could be cancerous. Needless to say I was completely taken aback.
The next step was for them to put a scope in me and get a visual exam. They had a monitor hooked up so we could see everything together. Kinda interesting how it felt like I was on one of those crazy carnival rides as the camera took us deeper into my body. Then it happened, as we came around the corner, the camera showed a very large red mass on my bladder. Now it is never a good sign when you hear your doctor say “now that doesn’t look very good”. To say I was shocked by that would be a huge understatement.
After the exam the urologist felt it could be cancer, but said we need to take a biopsy to make sure. The following week I was scheduled for the biopsy. The doctor said it would take 3 to 5 days for the results. Four hours later relaxing back at the house the phone rings. It was my doctor. He said “Ron, we got the results back and you have cancer of the bladder”. Upon further review of the ultrasound they noted that there was another spot on the right side of my pelvis and wanted to do another biopsy on that.
A week later back at OHSU for the next procedure. The whole procedure was painless and if it is possible to enjoy a biopsy procedure, this was one of those times. The entire staff that was with me did a great job. I was wide awake and talked with everyone in the room. The nurse asked me what my occupation was and when I told her that I was a sports broadcaster the entire mood of the room changed. Everyone wanted to talk about the World Series and baseball. My nurse told me that her husband was a big Cubs fan and I said “I was sad for her and asked her why she didn’t marry up?” The room exploded in laughter. Took my mind completely off of what I was going thru. The procedure was done in about 50 minutes. They showed me the three specimens and said the results would be in the next day. The results were early stage 4 cancer of my pelvis. I was not ready for that news at all.
For the last three months it has been many visits back to OHSU to draw up a battle plan so to speak and discuss chemo. I must say the staff at the hospital are amazing. They explain everything in great detail and didn’t want us to leave until all of our questions have been answered.
This process for me has been the most humbling of my life. All the out pouring of love and support from the community, the Eli Sports Network, and our local paper the Columbian. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention all the prayer warriors that have contacted me and even folks from my high school days. It truly has helped me to stay in a positive frame of mind about all of this. You can do one of two things I feel. You can let yourself get depressed and hide under a rock, or deal with the problem and stay as positive as you can be. I would like to think that I’ve been a pretty positive person my whole life, and that is the path I chose. It’s not to say there aren’t times my spirits aren’t down, but I always bounce back. I tell folks that I hope God doesn’t need a new play by play guy right now. I still have work to do here.
My first chemo treatment will be on 12/9/16. I’m really not sure what to expect. Right now it is just one hour at a time. My plan for this commentary/blog is to try and keep you updated on what is going on. As I said earlier I hope my fight will help you with yours.
I want to extend a special thanks to Dan “The Candyman” O’Dell and Rodney “The Jet” Lawrence for filling in for me this football season. Great job guys! And to the founder of the Eli Sports Network, Paul Beattie for all his support.
I have much to live for. I hope that is God’s plan for me. Much thanks and love to all of you.