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Longtime Agweek staff reporter Jonathan Knutson is currently undergoing colon cancer treatment. Knutson is pictured here at his Grand Forks office on August 20, 2019. (Katie Pinke/ Agweek)

Plain Living: 'Journey' to getting well means plugging along

April was a memorable month for me. On April 8, I wrapped up my one-year term as president of North American Agricultural Journalists by leading our annual meeting at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. I didn't feel well at all, but being a good North Dakota farm kid, I toughed it out.

Returning to North Dakota, the pain and nausea continued to escalate. I hadn't felt right for several months, but earlier tests hadn't revealed anything seriously wrong and so I was inclined to wait for the next test on April 30. Multiple days of being unable to eat, drink or sleep, however, finally persuaded even stubborn, foolish me to seek immediate attention. On Saturday, April 13, I went to an urgent care clinic where further tests revealed I had colon cancer.

"Well," I told the doctor, "That explains why I feel this way."

I was immediately transferred and admitted to the hospital. "Oh, no!," I thought, "I can't finish writing my next Agweek cover story!" (My hard-working Agweek teammates bailed me out with a different cover.)

Three more pain- and nausea-filled days later, I had surgery. The surgeon, who radiated competence and compassion, told me after the operation that he had successfully removed a large cancerous tumor and there was reason for optimism.

Over the next few days, I learned that the cancer was treatable and the long-term prognosis was good. I also learned that medical practitioners are fond of saying "journey" and "bumps in the road." The former refers to the treatment plan and recovery process, the latter to setbacks and detours.

My scheduled journey (it's not etched in stone and definitely is subject to change) consists of surgery, recovery from surgery, chemotherapy, a short break, radiation treatment, another short break, and then a second round of chemotherapy, with it all finished in late winter or spring of 2020.

I've just completed six of 12 chemo treatments. (Halfway, yeah!) Though there are of course no guarantees, I'm told the long-term outlook remains good and that I should finish my journey successfully next spring. So I plug along in the ongoing effort to get well. I define "plug along" as trying to stay positive, patient and flexible, and to remain cooperative with medical staff. You may have a better definition, but it's probably pretty close to mine.

There have been more than a few bumps in my road so far, and no doubt there'll be more. At times, I whined a little, but never for long. I know I'm fortunate to have excellent medical care — and employer-provided health insurance.

I'm also fortunate to have my parents and three siblings, who've offered unflagging support and encouragement. It's been said we can't pick our relatives. But if I could, I'd stick with the ones I have now.

And thanks to my Agweek co-workers, especially Publisher/General Manager Katie Pinke, longtime colleague Mikkel Pates and videographer/producer Trevor Peterson, for their patience and understanding.

Limited at work

I'm frequently frustrated by how the cancer treatment affects my work at Agweek. To a large degree, my life had revolved around ag, ag journalism and Agweek. Providing useful, accurate stories for readers was my priority.

Now my priority needs to be getting well. And I'm simply physically incapable, during the treatment process, of doing some things on the job that I could before. That bothers me greatly, but I'm forced to accept it.

Agweek readers with major medical issues know what I mean. You can't do as much for crops, livestock, clients, employers or family as you once did — and it really bothers you, too. But like me, you're forced to accept it.

Those of you on a serious medical journey also will agree with this, I think: There's nothing brave, noble, heroic or edifying in our actions; we're simply doing what's necessary. We're human, all too human, so we worry and grow weary, and sometimes we stagger and stumble. But we plug along nonetheless.

If you're on a journey of your own, best wishes and good luck. I hope you avoid bumps in the road. But whatever happens, keep plugging along.

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