How the Tough Mudder Community Saved My Life – Dave Didier’s Story

Author: Charity Fick
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EdTech Cafe
 Standford EdTech (Author)
EdTech Café is a podcast series produced by the educational technology team at Stanford Medicine.

With all of the chaos and uncertainty going on with Tough Mudder, it is so easy to focus on the negative and what may or may not happen. Often we forget about the people, the heart and soul of the community and that is something I would hate to see happen. With that being said, I wanted to share the story of Dave Didier who is an inspiration to us all, for him Tough Mudder is a cancer killer. This is long one as I didn’t want to edit out a single moment of his story. Please sit back and grab some tissues, this will get you emotional.

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The calendar now says January 2020. Let’s go back exactly two years to January 2018.

I had made my mind up that I was going to do World’s Toughest Mudder in November 2018. At 58 years old, I figured, what the hell. I had committed to a healthier lifestyle as back 10 years ago I was overweight and was looking for something to right my ship. I started eating better, working out on a regular basis and low and behold with commitment and dedication I lost 40 pounds and was in the best shape of my life.

Enter Tough Mudder. In the fall of 2013, I jumped in and did my first Tough Mudder with my son and a family friend. Well needless to say I was hooked. After doing numerous Tough Mudder’s I wanted to up the ante and do Worlds. Well, this is a complete beast of a task. It required much training as the obstacles are like a regular Tough Mudder but on steroids. So in January 2018, I started my serious training. About a few weeks in, I was derailed by a sharp pain in my lower back. I have had these my whole life and made nothing of it as the pain went away after a few days. Well, unfortunately, the pain hit me three weeks in a row. it was now that I figured something was wrong.

I went to a chiropractor. He did an e-x-ray and it showed a pinch in my lower back that he figured with frequent visits he could fix.

Well here is the catch that threw a loop in the whole thing: While I was going to the chiropractor, I received a call from my insurance agent saying he could extend my policy at a lower rate. I was totally OK with that. A nurse came to check me out and took blood. After a while I received a call that said I was DENIED!! How could that be considering I was in such good shape? They suggested I see my doctor to go over the results. My doctor told me when I visited her I need to see an Oncologist. I asked what they do, she proceeded to tell me that’s a Cancer Doctor! I didn’t know what to say. I scheduled an appointment and sure enough, he confirmed the Protein level in my blood was 4 times higher than normal. I told him I eat lots of protein as I work out often. He said, different kind of protein…you have Multiple Myloma, a Bone Marrow Cancer.

Of course, the first thing I did was research this as I had never heard these words before in my life. BIG MISTAKE. It looked like I would be dead soon with what I read.

A week later, I had my appointment to see what kind of treatment I would go through. He told me, Dave, you are in fantastic shape, all your vitals are good, your lungs, liver, heart, and bones are strong so we should be able to heal you and cure you of this. No guarantee as cancer does not come with a guaranteed cure. But he told me because I was in good shape, he has a procedure that would give me my best chance at survival. I told him, “Ok, when can we start…NOW?” He said, “Dave, this is a marathon, not a race. It will take time, but I am very confident that with that your attitude I will be able to do everything I can to cure you. And I know I can hit you with everything we have to cure you as you are in good shape and you will let me do whatever it takes and follow the instructions, I give you.”

My wife set up an area in the kitchen that we called “Cancer Central,” as it held all my appointment and meds.

First up…

5 months of Chemotherapy. During this time, I received a daily Chemo pill and a shot in the belly once a month. I also received numerous other drugs that helped bring the protein level down. Well, these all came with not very nice side effects. I received a shot monthly to help strengthen my bones. The next day, it felt like I had broken ribs and was getting hugged by a bear. One kept me up all night. Not wired but just not tired. In fact, one morning my wife got up to get ready for work before I even went to bed. The other side effects included loss of appetite, loss of taste of food, numbness in my fingers and feet, being tired all the time to just mention a few. It truly sucked as this is not how I had lived my life before. The pain in my back from the cancer went from 2 to 8 on the pain scale. I was not able to sit in a chair at times due to the pain. It was a pain I had to tolerate as I knew it was doing good. But I had to keep my mental game strong as it is the key to tolerating the horror that was being done to me. In fact, once I told my doctor, “You know you are poising me..he said, but it’s a controlled poison”

I went to as many Tough Mudder events as I could. I wasn’t able to run them due to the germs and pain, but this did not stop me from going. It was such a relief to hang out with my Mudder family. They were all so happy to see me and see how I was doing. I was getting support from people all over the world that were following my story on social media. It brought tears to my eyes with the love I was getting and the concern to make sure I was doing okay. My son ran the Wisconsin course with my team in my honor as I was there watching from the sidelines. I have such an amazing team that supported me.

I was still able to work as I am in retail sales. There was no way I was able to hit the gym like I did before. I was barely able to lift a gallon of milk without extreme pain. And of course, the chemo weakened me. I had monthly visits to the oncologist to check progress. Everything was going as planned. He was very happy with the results. After the 5 months of torture, I had a two-week reprisal where I had no chemo before my next adventure. During this time, my wife and I went out to all my favorite restaurants as I could kind of taste food again.

My son and I shaved each other’s heads, as they figured I would lose my hair.

Ok, now the real fun starts. The chemo had brought my protein down to a level where I was ready for the next step. I needed to get a Stem Cell Transplant. I went to the hospital where they put a port in my chest and removed my blood cells. It was on my 59th birthday that I was hooked up to a machine for 6 hours where the blood was taken out, the cells removed, and the blood was returned to my body. The cells were then frozen to kill whatever cancer was left in my cells. One week later I was admitted to St. Luke’s Hospital in Milwaukee where I was to remain for a minimum of two weeks. The first day there, they hit me with ALL the chemo they had to kill whatever remaining cancer I had in my body. The next day, I was hooked up to a machine where my cells were returned to my body through my port. It was then I had NO immune system. I had to stay clear from all germs as the simplest cold germ could have killed me. The nurses I called my “Angels from God’ as they took amazing care of me during my stay. So here I am, a usually extremely active man, in a room where I had to stay clear of germs, was totally spent from all that was done to me and really didn’t feel like doing anything. I was on a restrictive diet, as again I could not be exposed to germs. No fruit, no greens, just the most basic of foods. For breakfast, I got a small box of dry cereal, chocolate pudding, and water. Lunch was a grilled chicken sandwich with nothing on it, a bag of chips, and water. Dinner was a bowl of chicken soup with chocolate pudding and water. This was it. Every day for 2 weeks. I will never forget one day they brought my food, put it on my bed and I looked at it for 30 minutes, with no interest in eating it. I had developed an annoyance with the smell of the food tray. I could not stand the smell. I had to have my food brought in without a tray.

I was told the more I was able to get up and walk the halls of the area, I was in the better off I was. I did as much as I could but even one small lap took everything I had to do. I brought books to read, things to do, but really had no interest in doing anything. I just lay in my bed and prayed to be healed so I could get my life back.

Every day I had to take a shower. This was a huge deal as I had NO energy at all. I was so weak. I did it as fast as I could, had to sit on the floor of my bathroom to catch my breath. When I got to my bed, it took me 45 minutes to recover to the point where I was breathing normally again. I was checked on numerous times during the day from my nurses, who I actually had a great time with as we joked around as I made the best of a very bad situation. Being an Audio/Video salesman, I brought in my laptop and a remote control and programmed it to operate their TV as I hooked up my laptop to it. I knew this was home for 2 weeks, so I made it the way I wanted it to be. My wife and son came to visit almost every day but had to be really careful about the germ situation. I had a visit from my primary doctor every day to let me know my progress. I remember one Sunday the backup doctor came in and said, “Do you work out much?” I told him I was training for Worlds Toughest Mudder and was a gym rat. He told me he had never seen anyone be able to handle the Chemo they hit me with and figured I was one who took care of his body.

So 2 weeks past and I was OK to leave the hospital and go home. I had to wear a mask every time I was outside. During this time Worlds happened. My teammate ran it in my honor, a ribbon campaign was done again in my honor by the Tough Mudder community that had supported me through this whole ordeal. I watched all the video feeds I could wishing so much I could be there but knowing that I was in spirit, as there were so many that wore a ribbon on my honor. One of my friends used the ribbon to push himself through the evening, saying, if Dave can get thru Cancer then I can surely do this.

Built-in Support System

A teammate wore a shirt with my name on it. You can’t understand how much this meant to me. It brought me to tears often, knowing these people, some strangers to me as of then, (now friends) did all this for me. But they also used me as inspiration to overcome all obstacles that came in on the course, as that’s the Mudder way. Teamwork and camaraderie and overcoming any and all obstacles. Then came the 5 weeks of staying home not being able to do much. That was really rough. But I was getting better every day. I felt better, I kept myself busy and tried to get my strength back as much as I could. I have a treadmill at home so I walked it as much as I could. Time passed and my immune level got back to the point that I could go to work. But not really able to go shopping or anything where there was a chance of getting sick. Slowly but surely, my numbers got to where they needed to be and I  was released to the public. I started working out again. And of February 12th, 2019 I was given the words every cancer patient wants to hear.

Dave, you are in Remission!!

They found NO cancer cells in my body, so I could go on and live my life. I still needed to have monthly checkups and take maintenance Chemo, but you are cured.

Tough Mudder here we come!

I called myself the “Cancer Killer” First up, Missouri in May. I was a little scared, a little tentative. But when I did that first obstacle, it was like riding a bike, you never forget. When I crossed the finish line, I had 5 fellow Tough Mudder Ambassador friends waiting for me. Wow, what a fantastic feeling that was. As when you are on the course, there is no way to know when you are going to finish. They told me they wanted to see me finish and congratulate me on not only finishing the course but beating Cancer. Brought tears to my eye and many hugs.

I then proceeded to do Twin Cities, where I did my first Tougher Mudder and two events in one weekend: Indiana, and Chicago. In Chigaco, I hit my 10x headband doubling my total from the 5 I had done before the year started. I WAS NOT going to let cancer beat me.

I had met so many people over the course of the year who were inspired by my story and mental strength and were all so happy to see me. It was an incredible season.

World’s Toughest Mudder

But then came World’s Toughest Mudder. I was bound and determined to do it as I couldn’t last year. I went to Atlanta with my teammate and met more of my Mudder family from all over the world. It was an experience I will never forget. The people in this community are so caring and loving that it wants to make me build a city for all of us to live in. These are the people I want to be around, positive, like minded, driven to succeed. I had no idea how hard this was going to be, and I found out the hard way. I went in with the mindset that I was going to do my best, no lap requirements, just not to hurt myself, after all, I went through there is no way I wanted to regress. I hit the third lap and felt a pain in my back like I had before. It was at that time I told myself I was done. I walked the remainder of the course and sat at the finish line cheering on the other Mudders. I promised myself I was going to cross the finish line on Sunday no matter what shape I was in. So, I woke up Sunday morning from my tent, walked the entire course, took pictures of the torture they put us through, met many friends still out there, and as I promised myself, I crossed the finish line at World’s Toughest Mudder. It is an accomplishment that is hard to put in words after all I went through to do it.

There is no way I would have been able to complete this immense task without the support of the Tough Mudder community. I cannot say enough about the people there. At the banquet, I was nominated for “Mental Grit and Personal Accomplishment” Again showing the impact I had on the Tough Mudder community. To be honored in such a way was a feeling I will never be able to top. Tough Mudder’s cancer killer.

Once I was told by my doctors they had a cure for me, I shared my story on my Facebook page and did videos monthly to both push myself to overcome this, but to hopefully inspire and motivate anyone out there that was watching to know that they are not alone, and with mental determination, the support of family and an amazing community of people….that cancer can be killed. I am living proof. Tough Mudder is a cancer killer.

If you have a story to share with us on how Tough Mudder impacted your life, please reach out to us by commenting below. I would be honored to share your story with the OCR community.

The post How the Tough Mudder Community Saved My Life – Dave Didier’s Story appeared first on Mud Run, OCR, Obstacle Course Race & Ninja Warrior Guide.

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How the Tough Mudder Community Saved My Life – Dave Didier’s Story
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