By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Sitting with a cup of half coffee and half hot chocolate, Morinville Councillor Paul Krauskopf pauses between sips to tell his story, a story of his battle with cancer, his determination to press on with life, and his desire to assist others battling the disease.
Krauskopf’s story began July 6 of last year when he was taken to the emergency department with constipation problems. The next day a CT scan revealed he had colon cancer and surgery the following day removed a 24 centimetre section of his colon. But while surgeons delivered the good news that Krauskopf would not have to use a colostomy bag, the bad news was the councillor had Stage 4 colon-rectal cancer as well as cancer in his liver. Surgery set for last August to remove parts of his liver was cancelled when it was revealed Krauskopf also had cancer in two lymph nodes in his pelvis. His oncologist gave him six months to live or an eight per cent chance of living five years if he began chemo treatments.
Krauskopf opted for the chemo.
“I cried. She cried. I cried with my family – my daughters and my wife. I went to my mother’s grave site and I cried there. I cried alone,” the councillor said. “Then I decided I was done with the crying and it was time to move on.”
A month later he signed up for a clinical trial that ran a line into his heart, something that is now done intravenously every three weeks. Since starting chemotherapy last fall, Krauskopf has had seventeen treatments; his eighteenth is this Wednesday.
“I don’t feel too bad,” Krauskopf said. “In all the trips I’ve made to the Cross Cancer Clinic I’ve met a lot of people there. There’s a lot of people that are in the same boat I’m in, but on the other hand they’re not because [some are] way worse off than I am. I call myself fortunate. I thank the Lord for giving me strength, and I thank my family and friends for their support and encouragement.”
The councillor said other than occasional heat and sweating, some sensitivity and loss of feeling in his fingers and toes and an occasional bad taste in his mouth, all side effects of the chemo and medication, he is feeling pretty good these days. Well enough in fact that the cancer is not slowing him down from what he has to do or wants to do.
“That’s one thing I decided. I wasn’t going to sit down and feel sorry for myself,” Krauskopf said, adding he does get tired easier than before and has had to give up his passion for woodworking because of lost feelings in his fingers. “Physical things – I’m not as active as I was but mentally I just keep on going. I don’t stop.”
But as much as the chemo, the medication and his faith in his God, his family and his friends have helped him in his battle, a general overall positive mental attitude has allowed Krauskopf to keep on keeping on. Although his positive outlook on life was present prior to his illness, being diagnosed with and then dealing with cancer has changed his outlook and focus on life. “July 6 was the first day of the rest of my life,” Krauskopf said. “How short it may be – how long it may be, I don’t know.”
It was that uncertainty of longevity last fall that prompted Krauskopf to weigh whether or not he should seek a seat on Morinville Town Council for another term. His oncologist advised him to proceed with that and other plans. “She said, ‘You’re not dead yet,” Krauskopf recounted, noting the doctor said just because he had been given numbers estimating how much time he had left, they were but a worst case scenario. “She said, ‘Carry on with your life the same as you did before.’”
The councillor has done just that, fulfilling his civic and personal commitments, particularly enjoying time with his family, including his newest grandson, Paul.
On the road to helping others
For Krauskopf the formula that has worked for him in dealing with the disease has been threefold. “You’ve got to have faith,” he said. “You can’t do it alone. Whether it’s somebody that you know of face to face or up there, you can’t do it alone. You have to be positive, and always thinking of positive things. And you have to live every day one day at a time.”
Krauskopf said in visiting the Cross Cancer Institute he was lifted by the positive attitude of cancer patients who were far sicker than he, particularly a wheel-chaired bound woman who despite being given months to live was talking about plans a year or more away. “She was talking about all this stuff in the future, not thinking about where she was at,” Krauskopf said. “That’s what a guy has to do. He has to think positive and just live day by day.”
But not everyone Krauskopf encountered over the past year felt the same. He tells of a man he met prior to his first chemo treatment, a man also battling the disease and one who asked Krauskopf if he’d considered taking his own life. The man told Krauskopf he was having a hard time coping with the disease as it was hard on him, his wife and his family. So the two men chatted for a while about life, the disease and coping with both. “Two months ago I saw him again,” Krauskopf said. “What a different guy. He said, ‘Things have changed since I talked to you. I’ve had my last cancer treatment and I’m supposedly cancer free. I really thank you for chatting with me that day.’”
It was after that chance reencounter that Krauskopf really began ruminating on the prospects of being there for others. “Maybe there are others out there I can talk to,” he said. “They don’t have to be cancer patients. They could be a spouse of a cancer patient, an uncle, an aunt, a friend. I thought about it for a long time and after Jack [Layton] passed away, I thought maybe it’s time I do something.”
Krauskopf said anyone wishing to have a chat with him can stop him on the street, call him at 780-940-4534 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. “It can be at their beck and call,” he said. “It can be at their place, my place, here, there, day, night, weekends, weekdays – it doesn’t matter.”