Published on July 01, 2009

Survival Training

Life in the Moment

In April 1997, a weekend workout left Jones exceptionally tired. A similar feeling of exhaustion overcame him after a business trip.He decided to check with his doctor.The diagnosis shocked him. Jones had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Dr. Michael Guffy, board-certified McFarland Clinic oncologist, told him to clear his calendar for the next year.

Randy Jones, Leukemia Patient

Clear his calendar? Jones couldn't grasp the meaning of the words. "I have to be in Atlanta next week," he told Guffy.

"If you go to Atlanta, you may be hospitalized in Atlanta," Guffy warned.

"We went home and threw our Franklin planners in the garbage," Jones says. "We learned to think about today today and leave tomorrow for tomorrow."

"Overnight, we got much better at living in the moment," his wife Julie adds. "We learned not to sweat the small stuff."

Life with Cancer

Jones began aggressive treatment, which included chemotherapy and blood transfusions, at Mary Greeley Medical Center's William R. Bliss Cancer Center. The chemo was effective, but chromosome tests showed that without a bone marrow transplant, the cancer was likely to return. In September, Jones entered the University of Nebraska Hospital in Omaha.

"The transplant was difficult, the hardest thing I've ever done," he recalls. "To kill the cancer, they have to do some pretty nasty things."

The procedure compromised Jones' immune system. Even the slightest infection would have resulted in life-threatening complications. Still, he rode the exercise bike in his room daily.When a blood clot put one leg out of commission, Julie dragged the bike beside the bed and held her husband upright while he pedaled with one leg. "As long as I was riding, no matter how slowly, I knew I'd be okay," he explains.

After three months in the hospital, he came home on Christmas Eve and spent several months regaining his strength.

Life through Relationships

Relationships carried the Jones family through the year after diagnosis. Julie worked Monday through Thursday and then drove to Omaha for the long weekend. Her parents cared for the Jones' three children and brought them for hospital visits. Andrew was 12,Michaela was six, and Carlton was three.

Jones' siblings and parents stayed with him when Julie couldn't. Telling his family the news had been difficult. Twelve years earlier his sister, Paula Chambers, had died of brain cancer at age 30. "I told my siblings," Jones says as he shakes his head. "But my brother told my parents for me."

Jones' business mentor left retirement and idled down the business. The community pitched in too. Neighbors shoveled snow and replaced the water heater. Their school and church held fundraisers.

Life with Passion

Twelve years after his diagnosis, Jones' body is cancer-free. But the fight with cancer changed him.Mary Ellen Carano, coordinator of the William R. Bliss Cancer Center and family friend, describes Randy: "He motivates people to fight cancer and value relationships. His passions are family, biking and health."

His life reflects his passions. He and Julie mentor other cancer patients, serving as First Connections for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. He loves mountain biking with his family. On nice weekends, he pulls the tandem bike from the garage and rides around Ada Hayden Park with Julie or one of the kids.

From March through August, Randy races throughout the state with the other members of the Ames-based Central Iowa Cycling Club. The William R. Bliss Cancer Center is a team sponsor. Teammate Steve Lauber says Jones is a positive racer. "He's never down. He makes time to do what it takes to make the team work. I appreciate what he does."

Race training is challenging and time consuming, but it no longer rules Jones' life. He's passionate about the sport for a different reason. "It's the camaraderie. I like the people. What we have in common is cycling."

Besides, Jones says, everything is relative. "Compared to chemo treatment, this training regime is easy."