For some, the idea of living each day to its fullest is just a bumper sticker or just something cute to say.
For Devin Dick, it’s a real way of life.
The Kansas State senior knows all too well what it really means to live each day to its fullest. He’s lived it and truly believes in that idea because it wasn’t long ago the Hutchinson native was unsure how many days he actually had left.
Dick’s road to Manhattan and atop the Big 12 indoor heptathlon standings didn’t come easy. He started his career at Wichita State where he redshirted his first year on campus. That’s when everything changed.
Figuring his body was just responding to a more arduous workout routine, Dick thought little of the vomiting and nausea he began to experience toward the end of his second semester.
“I blamed the sickness on the training because it was so different than what I had been used to before, training for the heptathlon and decathlon,” said Dick, who is in Ames, Iowa, this weekend for the Big 12 Indoor Championships. “I was training five hours a day, plus lifting. I thought the sickness was just me pushing my body to its limits.”
He was wrong.
When it became clear the medication wasn’t working, Dick sought out more definite answers, starting with an ultrasound of his pelvic region. Within an hour, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound combined-events athlete was scheduled for an appointment the next morning with a specialist.
Something was clearly wrong.
“They said not to worry, but ‘We think this could be cancerous,’” Dick said. “Not to worry, right? I’m only 19. That was one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do — calling my parents and telling them I might have cancer.”
That next morning it was confirmed. Dick had testicular cancer. That night, he had surgery.
“It had progressed so rapidly that in just three weeks the mass had grown to the size of a ping-pong ball,” said Dick, who missed the majority of his finals that semester. “They didn’t want to waste any time. I was in the hospital that night having surgery, less than 10 hours after seeing the doctor and only 24 hours after the ultrasound.”
Though the mass had been removed, Dick was not quite yet out of the woods. He now had go through chemotherapy. Dick was presented with two options. One form of chemo would have been less harsh through the process, but would have meant the end of his athletic career due serious lung damage. The other option was harsher in the interim, but wouldn’t present as much long-term damage to his lungs.
The decision was an easy one for Dick.
“Because I was physically active and how young I was, with all the training I had done, we decided to go for the stronger option,” he said. “They hit it hard.”
That meant Dick had to undergo eight-hour treatments for a week at a time for four weeks — separated by two-week breaks in between — during his first summer in Wichita.
The process was grueling, even for an athlete of his caliber. He lost all his hair after the second round of treatment and lost 50 pounds during the entirety of chemotherapy — dropping to 140 pounds.
“I had no energy at all going into the fourth round,” Dick said. “I lived in my parents’ basement at the time and there were days I couldn’t walk up the stairs to eat. I’d lay at the bottom of the stairs unable to get up.”
The entire time, though, Dick was focused on one thing — to get back to track and field, somehow, someway.
“I was motivated by track and field,” he said. “I chose this regiment because they told me there was a 50/50 chance of me going back to athletics. I made that my motivation throughout the whole thing.”
The fourth round of treatment ended two days before fall classes were to start at WSU, providing that window he needed to rejoin the track program. Getting back in shape took time. His first workout is something he’ll never forget.
“I went from running the mile in 4:40 to being only able to walk one lap around the track,” Dick said.
But just as soon as Dick began to gain weight and feel more like his normal self, he was hit with more bad news. A CT scan in October of 2009 revealed the cancer was back and had spread into his abdomen and lungs — requiring more surgery.
This time Dick and his family went to the Simon Cancer Center at the University of Indiana where he met Dr. Larry Einhorn, who was also Lance Armstrong’s oncologist.
Dick was cut open from the bottom of his ribs to his lower abdomen. He was closed up with 40 staples and in the critical care unit for a week. The cancer from his abdomen was gone. But the three nodules in his lungs remained due to the extensiveness of the surgery that would have required his chest to be split open. The masses haven’t grown, nor have they decreased in size since, but are still being monitored today.
Recovery from the surgery was long. But Dick remained focused on returning to track and field.
He did just that. Just two months after surgery, he was back on the track for the indoor season where he finished eighth in the heptathlon at the Missouri Valley Conference Indoor Championships. He finished fourth in the decathlon that spring at the conference championships.
Dick was finally doing what he wanted. But again, it wouldn’t last.
The summer he decided to get away from track and Wichita and move home to work at his family’s farm in Buhler.
Upon returning to school, though, Dick knew something wasn’t right. He didn’t feel right. He began to shut down mentally, and then his body began to follow suit.
Dick was diagnosed with depression and he dropped out at Wichita State. He stopped eating, stopped working out and lost the 20 or so pounds he had regained following chemotherapy. Mentally and physically, he “couldn’t be there anymore.”
“Everything had taken a toll on me,” he said.
He went back to Hutchinson and returned to the farm, worked for his father’ veterinary practice and worked at the local sale barn, anything to find a sense of normalcy again.
It was there he decided that he wouldn’t return to Wichita State. He was done. But he hadn’t yet given up on track. He began to think about K-State’s program. He visited Manhattan as a senior in high school, but K-State didn’t have a spot for him then.
“I just had to get out of Wichita — it wasn’t my cup of tea at the time,” Dick said. “My coach (Steve Rainbolt) understood and actually called up here to talk to Coach (Cliff) Rovelto.
“Coming up here, I wasn’t sure if was going to do track at that point. I wasn’t burned out, I just didn’t know what was going to happen there. But after taking an unofficial visit, I loved it and they wanted to have me on the team.”
He transferred to K-State for the fall of 2011 and switched his major to agriculture economics, perhaps even considering a career in vet med like his father.
Now 23, Dick has finally hit his stride, both in life and on the track. He’s the top combined-events athlete in the Big 12 this indoor season — four years removed from first being diagnosed with cancer. He’s excelled, despite being at only 85 to 90 percent of normal lung function because of chemotherapy.
“If I had the chance, I wouldn’t change a thing that’s happened,” he said. “Going through cancer at 19, it does take your innocence away when you have to make life and death decisions at that age. It helps you grow and making those mature, adult decisions put me in a different stage in life when others might be thinking about partying.”
Dick gets his blood drawn every four months and meets with a doctor every six months for checkups.
“I get more nervous taking exams than I do going to see the doctor,” Dick said. “It is what it is and I can’t change anything. If I go in there and I have cancer again, I can’t change a thing and have to do what they tell me.”
It’s because of that Dick lives everyday to its fullest.
“I take every day as it is,” he said. “I might not be here tomorrow. The cancer might come back and I have to have chemotherapy again, so I might as well make the most of everyday.
“A lot of people say that, but don’t always know what it means. You snap your fingers and everything can change. I know that.”