By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
Craig Lindvahl has changed.
He’s walking slower and talking softer.
He wears out easily and just looks like he doesn’t feel well.
Actually, he looks like someone that has been battling cancer for a year.
Yes, as incredible as it sounds, it’s been a full year since Craig was first diagnosed and then announced that he had stage-4 pancreatic cancer.
He requires more rest, but still meets with people regularly.
He tires quickly, but still goes to his office two or three times a week.
Despite neuropathy in his hands, he still writes on his blog every month.
This type of life, now full of limitations and challenges, was not what this 59-year-old had in mind just 13 short months ago.
We’re talking about an award-winning filmmaker, a decorated teacher and an accomplished author.
We’re talking about a special person that always seemed to have time for others, touching countless lives and serving as a mentor for so many.
We’re talking about a man that not only was instrumental in getting the local CEO Class started, but someone that has traveled extensively throughout the United States and into other countries, delivering the message about CEO and assisting in developing new programs.
It would be impossible to measure the total impact Craig has had on communities, local leaders and students. It would be immense.
The ability to continue doing many of these things has been taken away by the disease. But this remarkable man never complains. There’s no fear, no anger and no ‘Why me?’
“There’s always somebody who has it worse,” Craig said during an interview with The News Report. “I’ve actually had a pretty easy road compared to others. There are many that have paid a much higher price than I have. That’s for sure.”
Everything changed for Craig on Nov. 8, 2015, while he was making a CEO presentation in Sterling. He experienced serious abdominal pain. After all the tests were completed, it was determined he had cancer.
“Dr. (Philip) Dy confirmed it. He told me there was a tumor on my pancreas,” Craig recalled. “He told me it was an aggressive cancer and that we needed to start chemo treatments right away. But he never talked about a prognosis.”
But based on the experience of a good friend, Craig believed his time was short.
Gerri Carlton, his friend and mentor, died almost 30 years to the day he was told from the same disease.
“She found out around Columbus Day, and by Thanksgiving, she was gone,” Craig recalled. “So based on that, I thought I had only a few weeks to live. I’m going to die of the same thing. Being around a year later is not something I contemplated.”
Despite his low expectations at the time, Craig has made the most of the past year.
He went on a fishing trip with buddies. Even though he doesn’t fish, he said it was fun being on the water and spending time with friends.
He has also spent a lot of time with Beth, his wife of 36 years.
“She is the perfect caregiver,” Craig said. “She is the most others-centered person I’ve ever known. We’ve had a lot of fun together. We’ve spent time together this past year in ways we didn’t have time to do previously.”
He and Beth took two trips to Disney World, one of Craig’s favorite places. They also took two of their “adoptive” daughters – Molly Niemerg and Jodi Thoele. They are both former students and former employees.
In addition, he has continued to be a vital part of the Midland Institute for Entrepreneurial Learning and continues to go into his office two or three times a week.
“It’s wonderful to see it continue to work,” Craig noted. “They are adding CEO classes, both in-state and out-of-state. By next fall, they will have close to 50 classes in four states. It will far out-live me.”
He has also continued treatments throughout the year. Initially, an IV was used for the chemotherapy in hopes of stopping the growth of the tumor and keeping it stable. It was successful. He now takes six chemo pills a day for two weeks at a time. After one week off, he takes them for another two weeks.
About two weeks ago, Craig and Beth were caught off guard when a scan revealed something that could have been devastating. This interview was actually done just a few days before further tests were to be taken. The fear was that the cancer had spread into his bones. But when those tests were completed, it was determined it was something quite different.
“It is just arthritis,” was the message Beth sent in a text. “Thanks for your prayers.”
According to Craig, a typical day for him “isn’t very exciting.”
“Because of the medication I take, I don’t get up until around 10,” he noted. “Several days a week I have lunch with somebody. In the afternoon, sometimes I go to the office; sometimes I go home to rest. Really, it’s not very exciting.”
One of the challenges Craig faces on a daily basis is fatigue.
“But it’s hard to describe,” he said. “It’s not physical, like you feel after working outside in the yard. It’s like you can’t get up.
“I just try to enjoy every day,” he added. “Every one of us has a finite number of days to live. For a guy like me, it’s just a little less.”
Craig and Beth went to Danville to celebrate Thanksgiving. Craig’s parents and brother live there.
“For years, I was the one missing,” he admitted. “I was always off doing something. Having the family together this year was special. I tried treating like it could be my last one.”
Now Craig is looking forward to Christmas, although he quickly pointed out he has no idea what Beth is planning.
“She decorated the inside of the house and it looks good,” he said.
And what about a Christmas tree?
Craig gave that look like only he can and said “We have cats.” Enough said.
During this past year, Craig has had plenty of time to reflect.
“Sometimes I wonder ‘why am I still here? What is the purpose of this part of my life?’ A wise person told me maybe my calling is to be a good example. On days when I don’t have much energy, I think about that. It helps remind me to continue trying to be that good example.”
He has also seen plenty of good examples set by others.
“People are wonderful. Their capacity for caring about somebody is incredible,” Craig noted. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t get cards, emails or texts asking how I’m doing or letting me know they are thinking of me. I could never have imagined the outpouring of love and care I have received. It’s a humbling, humbling experience.”
Some of those notes have been received on days he was struggling.
“The message would be exactly what I needed to hear,” Craig acknowledged. “Some people would say that was a God thing. And I’m one of them.”
One thing Craig is known for is his life lessons. Ask any of his students.
When asked if he had learned a new life lesson, he quickly answered.
“One thing I’ve noticed, especially during this last presidential election, is that anger is such a wasted emotion,” Craig emphasized. “People get offended or let themselves be affected by things that have no impact on their lives whatsoever. It’s just a compelling need to be noticed and it doesn’t accomplish a thing. It’s just a waste.”
As Craig looks into the future, he plans to continue doing as much as he can. He has even continued working out, although he admitted he wasn’t “pumping much iron” anymore.
“Some have been pressing me to come up with a new bucket list,” he said. “But I feel like I’ve checked off most of those boxes. I’ve lived a full life.
“I have learned to live with the fact that I have cancer,” Craig added. “I don’t know how much longer I have. Nobody does. But I do know the clock is ticking.
“I also know it’s great to see another Christmas. That was unexpected. Now I hope to see another Spring.”