One Tough Mudder

Port man who competes in obstacle course endurance contests overcame the challenge of his life by beating bone marrow cancer to race again

DAVE DIDIER IS a passionate ambassador for Tough Mudder races, but last year his obstacle was cancer. He received a stem cell treatment and chemotherapy last November at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee (left) and returned to race in a Tough Mudder in May in Missouri (right). Photos courtesy of Dave Didier
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Dave Didier was used to obstacles. He sought them out by participating in a host of Tough Mudder races.

But last year, he faced the ultimate hurdle, one he didn’t see coming and that didn’t involve climbing a wall.

Didier was in a fight for his life. 

News was at first innocuous enough. He had a pinched nerve in his back and was at a chiropractor when he got a call from his life insurance agent asking if he wanted an extension on his policy.

Didier agreed, but was denied.

“How could I be denied for a life insurance policy? I’m in the best shape of my life,” the Port Washington resident who had lost 40 pounds over the past several years said.

But the protein level in his blood was four times higher than normal. He was told to see an oncologist.

“That smacked me in the face as hard as it could,” he said.

Didier had multiple myeloma, a bone marrow cancer.

He was shocked but eager to beat his latest obstacle.

“When do we start? Tomorrow? That’s my attitude,” he said.

While that pace wasn’t the plan for this type of cancer, Didier had already unknowingly begun to win his battle.

The fact that he was in such good shape, ate well and exercised — tests on his vital organs were positive — put him ahead of the game. His medical team was confident he would pull through, although his doctor said promises can’t be made with cancer.

Five months of chemotherapy made Didier’s fingers and toes numb and burn. Food tasted metallic “but I knew I had to eat,” he said.

His wife Laura color coded his medicines. His son Eric shaved his head so he looked like his dad, who had lost his hair.

Didier had a port put into his chest on his birthday and got a stem cell transplant at St. Luke’s Medical Center the next day.

He was hit with the maximum dose of chemo and spent a scheduled two weeks in the hospital.

He couldn’t eat his usual diet of fruits and vegetables due to the risk of germs. He was down to cereal, chicken sandwiches and chips, pudding, eggs and soup.

Didier’s energy level slipped to the point that a five-minute bath called for a 30-minute rest in his bed while he panted.

But he kept a positive attitude and was an inspiration to his nurses, who he called his “angels of God.”

Didier, who works at Flanner’s Home Entertainment in Grafton, used his technical expertise to program his room’s TV on his computer and still be able to use the remote control. Nurses told him he was “one of a kind.”

Three elements helped Didier pull through, he said: a good medical team, support from family and friends and mental strength. “Embrace the suck” was his motto.

On Feb. 12, his cancer was determined to be in remission, a big celebration day.

He had physical restrictions — at one point he couldn’t lift a gallon of milk — but he made do at work with help from colleagues. He slowly got back into the gym and found the more he worked out the less back pain he had.

He still attended Tough Mudders, sharing his story and inspiring new friends.

“That support group was just amazing. It’s a community. I do it more for the people than the obstacles,” he said.

Now, Didier is physically about 90% of where he was before. He is on a smaller dose of “maintenance chemo” and gets tested regularly.

He completed his first Tough Mudder since getting cancer on May 15 in Missouri. Five Tough Mudder ambassadors waited for him at the finish line.

“It’s just such an amazing feeling and to know the effect you’ve had on people to overcome their obstacle...” he said.

“That was my Tough Mudder last year, beating cancer.”

Didier’s next Tough Mudder is Saturday in Minnesota.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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