Richard Hartwick keeps busy doing the things that make him happy.
It’s a strategy that has helped him get through the last four years – of which he was expected to live only eight months.
The Salmon Arm resident, who also goes by the name Richard White Feather, said about four years ago, while living and working in Calgary, he began experiencing back pain that was affecting his hands. After being told by a chiropractor there was something wrong with his back they couldn’t fix, he went to see a doctor. Blood tests revealed he had cancer, which would be located in his mid back.
“Tumours had wrapped around my spine and killed nerves that went to my hands,” said Hartwick. “So I had no feeling in my hands for a while… I couldn’t even button my shirt.
“They gave me eight months to live when they found out I had these tumours.”
Hartwick would meet with specialists who gave him an option for treatment.
“They said if I sign a waiver that they’re not responsible, they’ll give me the most radiation and some chemo to kill the tumours so I could use my hands again,” said Hartwick. “So I did that, and they put me in the radiation machine and they did radiation and got some chemo and in a few weeks my hands started to work.
“I said that’s great. I can drive my car and work on my models and stuff. And then they said, well, unfortunately, that’s not all the cancer that you have. You have lung cancer, you have 90 per cent prostate cancer, you have bone cancer, which is throughout your entire body.”
Hartwick was put on medication and would receive more radiation for his cancer.
“Last year, November/December, I went to the Kelowna cancer hospital and they did a whole month of radiation and killed my prostate cancer completely,” said Hartwick.
During this treatment, it was found Hartwick still had some dormant cancer in his vertebrae. Though he continues to receive medical treatment, Hartwick doesn’t let it get to him. In fact, maintaining a positive attitude has been crucial to his cancer journey.
“I had a choice, ride out the eight months and die, or take the radiation and chemo and keep a positive attitude and survive,” said Hartwick. “It’s been close to four years, and about six months ago my doctor told me there’s no sign of cancer other than just the bit in my lower back that’s dormant. I had spots of cancer on my kidneys, my liver, and it’s all gone.
“They call me Miracle Man in Calgary and Kelowna because my doctor said, just having 90 per cent prostate cancer, survival of that is almost nothing, then having lung cancer, bone cancer, tumours and things like that, I should have never survived, yet here I am.”
One of the ways Hartwick kept a positive attitude was by focusing on one of his longtime hobbies: model boat building. When he could use his hands again, Hartwick got back to building from scratch his elaborate, motorized wooden vessels, including a four foot-by-two food barge with a powered gate and LED lighting. He’s also working on a 64-inch mahogany replica of a 1950s Chris-Craft. His living room is filled with these and other model vessels and motor vehicles, representing hundreds of hours of construction and detailing.
Also in Hartwick’s living room is a doggie bed belonging to his friendly companion, Henry.
“So in your mind, you need to do something. You just can’t sit there and worry about it. So I work on my models to keep me active, my hands, my sight,” said Hartwick. “In the meanwhile, my friend’s wife decided I needed a companion, so she bought me a dog… He’s a little beagle terrier I call Henry. So he’s with me all the time, we go for walks and have lots of fun together.”
When Hartwick isn’t making models and spending time with Henry, he may be found working at Peavey Mart, assembling bikes and barbecues and other items for display. In the summer, he plans to take his 1974 CCM bicycle, with a carrier for Henry, out for a spin in Canoe.
Having met others on their own cancer journey, Hartwick recognizes he is a lucky person, and said if his luck should extend to winning millions in a lottery, he would donate money to places like BC Children’s Hospital.
In the meantime, Hartwick endeavours to keep busy, stay happy and continue building his models.
“When I wake up, I look in the mirror, and I go I’m a very lucky man. I smile and I’m happy and my dog makes me happy,” said Hartwick.
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